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Texas Senate
March 26, 2013
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(AUSTIN) — Certain individuals who apply for state assistance would have to pass a drug test before they could get benefits under a bill considered before the Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday. Committee Chair Jane Nelson, who authored SB 11, said that the state needs to make sure that money sent to help families should not be spent on drugs. "[Drug abuse] tears apart families, hurts children and prevents individuals from living healthy productive lives," she said. "Not only that, drug use is a direct violation of the personal responsibility agreement signed by all Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients."

The bill would require new TANF applicants to take a controlled substance screening test, essentially a questionnaire that is intended to identify likely drug users. Applicants who are flagged by this screening would have to pass a drug test in order to begin receiving money. Applicants who have previously failed a drug test or those who have been convicted of a drug related felony would also have to pass a drug test to get benefits.

Penalties for failing a drug test get steeper with each test failed. The first time a TANF recipient fails a test, adult benefits to that recipient are cut off for six months, though services and benefits relating to the family and children continue. The second failure means no benefits, adult or family, for one year, though the person can reapply after six months if they are enrolled in or have completed a drug abuse treatment program. Three failures means the person is out of TANF for good.

The Texas Senate
Senator Joan Huffman of Houston won passage of SB 12 Tuesday, which would allow evidence of prior similar crimes to be used in trials against people accused of sexual assault of a child.

Scott McCown of the Center for Public Policy Priorities testified before the committee on some ways to improve the bill to make sure that children aren't paying the price for their parents' drug use. He pointed out a similar bill in the House that uses a concept called a protective payee, where another adult family member manages the TANF benefits for the children. Nelson told McCown she would work with him and other advocates to develop a protective payee system to include in the bill. "My intent is absolutely not to hurt the children," she said. "But I believe that if mama is a serious drug abuser, that money is not helping, that money is buying drugs." The bill remains pending before the committee.

In floor action Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that would allow prosecutors to use additional evidence against anyone accused of sexual assault of a child. Senator Joan Huffman, author of SB 12, said that in cases involving the sexual abuse of a child, evidence of prior offenses by the accused is currently admissible only if the same child was also the victim of that prior offense. "Often the testimony of the child is the only evidence available to the prosecutor" she said. Her bill would allow judges to consider evidence of prior similar offenses against other children as admissible evidence. "It's my belief that justice is better served when we seek the ultimate truth of guilt or innocence, and that should include all relevant evidence," said Huffman. SB 12 now heads to the House for approval.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, March 27 at 11 a.m.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.