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Bill for welfare drug testing in negotiation

– Two Indiana lawmakers trying to pass a bill requiring drug tests for some welfare recipients say they have passed voluntary drug tests.

The remarks come amid negotiations between the state House and Senate to agree on a final draft of the bill. Lawmakers met Thursday to start hashing out the final details.

Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, revived a Democratic strategy and requested lawmakers also be drug tested. A similar tactic helped kill the bill last year, but the move hasn’t gained traction so far this session.

Republican Sens. Brent Steele of Bedford and Mike Young of Indianapolis said drug tests for legislators are unnecessary in part because certain criminal convictions can prevent hopeful candidates from running for office.

“Sen. Steele and I went to Methodist Hospital and had a drug test,” Young said. “We both passed”

Republican dominance in both the House and Senate so far has propelled the bill despite criticism from Democrats and advocates who say it unfairly targets the poor. Changes made in the Senate to limit who would be eligible for drug testing and strip the proposal of certain requirements for food assistance recipients left the bill a shell of its former self.

The original proposal would have required Temporary Assistance for Needy Families applicants to be screened for addiction and then potentially drug tested. The bill also would have banned recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from using benefits to buy foods not deemed “nutritional,” including sugary drinks and candy.

Both proposals have faced federal resistance and questions of constitutionality.

Only TANF applicants with prior drug convictions would be tested in the latest version of the bill, and the SNAP restrictions were removed.

House and Senate members now must negotiate changes to the bill before it’s up for a final vote. If approved, the measure will go before Gov. Mike Pence.

Other ideas on the table include requiring drug testing for some welfare applicants with any prior conviction and further research on how many people likely would be tested.

There also is resistance to a proposal to investigate the state’s options to add more conditions in order for recipients to get monthly assistance. The bill would require checking if Indiana could get federal permission to require TANF users to either enroll in a work training program or work for free for their municipality in exchange for benefits.

“I don’t know that you can do this by federal law,” said Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage. “This provision, I think, just doesn’t belong in this bill.”