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General Assembly approves bill mandating drug-testing for welfare recipients

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 10, 2011 - The Missouri General Assembly has sent on to Gov. Jay Nixon a bill that requires drug testing for all work-eligible welfare recipients -- and bars benefits for three years for anyone who tests positive.

An exception is made for someone who tests positive for a first time, if they successfully complete a substance-abuse treatment program and test negative during a six-month period beginning when they enter treatment.

But if the welfare recipient tests positive a second time, she is declared ineligible for three years, beginning with the date of the administrative hearing decision.

Recipients who decline to take a drug test also are barred from benefits for two years.

The bill also requires that the benefit cards contain a photograph of the recipient to prevent fraudulent use of benefit cards. The photo would be updated every three years.

The Missouri House voted 113-34 in favor of the bill, which is a veto-proof majority. The Senate earlier did so by a vote of 29-5, which also is a veto-proof margin. The initial versions of the bill had called for shorter periods when recipients who test positive would be denied benefits, but the Senate's final version expanded the penalty to three years.

Advocates acknowledge that the testing will cost the state $1 million a year but contend it should save the state more in the long run by tossing off people who fail drug tests.

Opponents contended that the penalty would largely and unfairly affect poor children of the parent who tests positive and will result in children going hungry. Advocates said during Monday's House debate that the children could receive food through their public schools and other charitable sources.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.