Supporters say the measures are designed to break the cycle of poverty by helping drug users find treatment and encouraging parents to send their children to school. But opponents say the measures are punitive attacks on low income individuals who rely on state assistance to get by.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs an awful message to send out across to our own citizens and across the county that this is what happens in Michigan if you are down on your luck,‚ÄĚ said Shelli Weisberg, legislative liaison for the ACLU of Michigan.
Under a measure passed by a 77-33 vote, the Department of Human Services would establish a substance abuse screening process for people applying for the family independence assistance program. If there is ‚Äúreasonable suspicion‚ÄĚ that the person is using illegal substances, like drugs, that person would be required to take a drug test.
People who test positive for the first time would be referred to a substance abuse treatment center and could continue receiving benefits throughout their treatment. But if a person tests positive subsequent times or drops out of treatment their family benefits would be stripped.
The Department of Human Services would start screening next April in three yet-to-be determined counties and the program would be reevaluated after one year.
Supporters of the bill say it allows people who have substance problems the chance to get back on the right track.
‚ÄúWe cannot continue to subsidize illegal substances but ‚Ä¶ we will continue to support those families who need and want our help, and this bill provide the right way to stop using illegal drugs,‚ÄĚ said Republican Rep. Klint Kesto of Oakland County‚Äôs Commerce Township.
Legislatures in at least 29 states are considering legislation this year requiring some form of drug testing or screening for welfare recipients, including Illinois and Indiana.
Michigan briefly ran a pilot program to drug test welfare recipients in late 1999. The American Civil Liberties Union sued, and a federal appeals court affirmed a lower court‚Äôs order halting the program. Part of the legal challenge was based on the claim that constitutional rights were violated because testing was done without ‚Äúindividualized suspicion.‚ÄĚ
Several Democrats ‚ÄĒ and one Republican ‚ÄĒ spoke against the bill Wednesday. Democratic Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright of Muskegon said it represents ‚Äúanother chapter in the Republican war against the poor.‚ÄĚ
The House also approved a bill Wednesday on a 78 to 32 vote that would strip a family of benefits in the family independence program if a child under the age of 16 doesn‚Äôt meet school attendance requirements.
The human services department put the policy in place in October, but this bill would write the policy into law to ensure it continues in future governors‚Äô administrations. Parents would be allowed to re-enroll in the program if their child meets three straight weeks of school attendance requirements.