SENATE OK'S WELFARE DRUG TESTING
(AUSTIN) — Certain applicants for state welfare benefits would have to pass a drug test to receive money under a bill approved by the Senate Wednesday. Bill author Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound told her colleagues that it's important to help people who need it, but the state cannot give people money to buy illegal drugs. "We have a responsibility that our policies discourage drug abuse, not enable it," she said.
SB 11 would require all applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to take a drug screening panel. This would be a questionnaire or some other metric used to identify individuals who are likely to be using illegal drugs. Those who are identified by this screening, along with those who have failed a prior drug test or have a felony drug conviction, would have to take a drug test before they could receive benefits. The first time a person fails a drug test, he or she would lose benefits for six months. The second failure means the person is out of the program for a year, but he or she could reapply after six months if they complete or are enrolled in a drug treatment program. If a person fails a third drug test, they are out of the program permanently.
Children would never lose benefits under the bill, no matter how many times their parent or guardian failed a drug test. The bill would create a protective payee program, where the state can designate another responsible adult, usually a family member, to receive benefits on behalf of the child. In order to qualify to be a protective payee, an individual must also pass a drug test. This bill now heads to the House for consideration.
Also Wednesday, the Senate Business and Commerce Committee considered a measure that would let voters decide whether to permit limited gambling in the state. SJR 64, by Dallas Senator John Carona, would permit up to 18 different casino locations in Texas if two-thirds of the voters approve. Carona said the state is already losing billions of dollars in gaming revenue to surrounding states, and legal gambling in Texas would bring thousands of jobs and much needed revenue into state coffers.
If approved, the measure would permit the construction of three destination casino resorts in three big cities. It would permit three more on the barrier islands like South Padre Island, and three at racetracks. It would grant 9 licenses for slots or casinos elsewhere, and allow the three federally-recognized Texas Native American tribes to operate casinos on their reservations. The state would levy a 20 percent tax on gambling gross revenue. The measure remains before the committee.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, April 11 at 8:30 a.m. to consider the local and uncontested calendar, and will convene in regular session at 11 a.m.