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Bill Requires Drug Testing For State-Funded Financial Recipients

January 31, 2014, 5:00 PM by Hailey Higgins

Bill Requires Drug Testing For State-Funded Financial Recipients

A new bill before South Dakota lawmakers would require the Department of Social Services to give drug tests to anyone receiving financial help.

But it raises a red flag for child advocate groups.

In 2011 and 2012, South Dakota lawmakers rejected bills requiring drug tests for welfare recipients. A positive test would have put benefits in jeopardy.

After the failed attempts, the primary sponsor of this year's bill says he's confident it's now something lawmakers can get behind but not everyone agrees.

The idea of drug testing low-income South Dakotans receiving financial assistance is regaining steam in 2014. Senator Mark Kirkeby is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 123 and says it's an issue that needs to become South Dakota law.

"I cannot believe for one minute that we would ever allow state-supported services to go to somebody who is using illegal drugs," Kirkeby said.

The bill itself is vague, requiring the Department of Social Services to screen and test applicants for drug use. Kirkeby says it's intentionally broad as a way to jump through the hoops that halted previous bills.

"I have nothing defined as far as who, what, when, where and why, if I could use those terms," Kirkeby said. "I am not going after applicants or Medicaid recipients."

Because the bill is so general, if passed, it puts the burden on the Department of Social Services to define which agencies and which services would require the drug testing. And that concerns children advocates.

"Our main concern is if a parent is removed from the program because of drug use, how is that going to affect the kids and would they be hungry because of it and have lack of nutrition," Jennifer Kline said.

Kline is the executive director for South Dakota Voices for Children. She says too broad a law has the potential to do more harm than good once it's on the books.

"South Dakota Department of Social Services has one of the best rankings in the nation when it comes to fraud and the lack of fraud. And we already think those programs are pretty good in South Dakota," Kline said.

The measure is scheduled to be discussed in the Senate Health and Human Services committee on Tuesday.

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