HELENA, Mont. — Certain welfare applicants would be required to take drug tests under proposed legislation in Montana.
Rep. Randy Pinocci introduced the bill in the House Human Services Committee on Monday. The Sun River Republican said thousands of Montanans asked him to sponsor the bill and that the goal is to protect children.
"It's not all applicants," he said. "It's for those showing past drug abuse or dependency."
House Bill 200 would require people who apply for assistance under the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to fill out a questionnaire about drug abuse. The applicant would then have to take a drug test if staff members determine a problem could be likely.
People who test positive for drugs wouldn't receive benefits unless they agree to complete a 30-day treatment program. Those who refuse to fill out the questionnaire would not receive public assistance. The bill would allow a third party to accept payments for children whose parents are ineligible because of the drug screening.
The bill was modeled after similar measures in Utah and Michigan, Pinocci said.
George Paul, chairman of the Cascade County Republican Central Committee, called the measure an attempt to provide additional support for people in need. "This is not an attempt to punish welfare recipients but to strengthen them," Paul said.
Self-described recovering drug addict Melissa Smylie said that while she would fill out a questionnaire honestly now because she's no longer on drugs, drug addicts will not do the same. "Drug addicts aren't going to tell you that (information) because that's how they survive," she said.
Sarah Howell with Montana Women Vote, a group working to increase women's participation in democracy, said the measure is concerning. "We find it invasive, likely unconstitutional and frankly offensive," she said.
Some committee members blasted the measure, questioning Pinocci's assertion that thousands of Montanans want the bill. They asked why he was targeting low-income families for testing and not other Montanans who receive tax benefits and subsidies.
"Thousands of Montanans taking drug tests are wondering why welfare recipients aren't on this," Pinocci said, referring to some people required to take drug tests for specific state jobs and in private industry.
Democratic Rep. Ellie Hill of Missoula said she planned to propose an amendment to the bill that would require all lawmakers to undergo drug testing before receiving their benefits. Pinocci said he would be open to the idea.