A resolution asking the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) to look into random drug testing for people applying for public assistance will see a Senate vote, after the Senate State Affairs Committee approved sending it forward Friday. The resolution would ask DHW to study the cost of a random drug testing program and report back to the Legislature next year.
The resolution says that studying the program won’t cost DHW any money, but the department is facing budget reductions. Rep. Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls, told senators that drug testing could help people addicted to illegal drugs. “If we could even prevent or help through recovery a few people, it would be worthwhile,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said that while looking into drug testing or starting a program could cost the state money now, it would pay off over time. “Individuals who have a substance (abuse) problem, as long as they are abusing substances, they are going to continue to depend heavily on the state and federal government,” Davis said.
Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, voted against the proposal. She said she couldn’t understand why DHW would test applicants. “This is one of the most confounding pieces of public policy I’ve seen coming forward this year, and that says a lot,” she said. “I see absolutely no value in this, and in fact great harm. I don’t understand how you can equate public assistance with a private employer drug testing.” She added that drug tests that come back positive could lead to more people headed to jail, which would also be a drain on the state budget.
“None of us want to give benefits out to those that are drug users and are abusing the system,” said Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo. “I think there’s value in trying to clear the air on this.”
Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, said “Out in my area, there are people that would be happy to see us start down that road.” He said adding drug testing would lead to people to be more self-reliant and less dependent on the state.