The Missouri House is studying a measure that would require drug testing for welfare recipients.

The Missouri House moved one step closer last week to passing a bill that would require drug testing for federal welfare recipients in Missouri.

After more than two hours of floor debate, legislators gave first-round approval to the bill by a 121-37 vote. Only one Republican voted against the bill, while 19 Democrats crossed the aisle to support the legislation.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, said that allowing drug abusers to receive government money would defeat the purpose of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: To, as Brandom put it, “learn personal responsibility” and prepare for jobs.

“The federal government clearly had no intent to include drug users in this program,” Brandom said.

On the floor, Democrats and Republicans sparred over whether drug testing for welfare would unfairly target the poor.

“If they’re clean, what’s the problem?” asked Rep. Dave Shatz, R-Sullivan, who voted in favor of the bill.

“The problem is, it’s demeaning,” said Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-University City, who voted against.

“It’s not demeaning if you’re not breaking the law,” Schatz countered.

Also at issue was the bill’s $2 million price tag. That figure assumes that all welfare recipients in Missouri would be tested for drugs; the bill’s language, however, requires that people be tested only if there is reason to believe that that person is using drugs.

Having been perfected, the bill will be read once more before a final vote in the House. If passed, it will then move to the Senate.


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