By Phillip Rawls
The Associated Press
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate is calling for drug testing of welfare recipients with a history of using illegal drugs.
The Republican leader of the Senate, Del Marsh of Anniston, moved to pass a drug testing bill immediately after the Senate convened at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Most of the Republican senators and all of the Democrats had not yet entered the chamber. Marsh asked to have the bill passed using the roll call from a previously passed bill. No one objected, and the bill automatically passed 22-10.
Democrats opposed to the bill rushed to the chamber to complain about Marsh using a quick procedural move that is normally reserved for non-contentious bills.
“There is no shame in this Legislature,” Democratic Sen. Quinton Ross of Montgomery said.
Marsh said opponents should have been in the chamber when the Senate was supposed to be meeting.
“We came in at 2,” he said.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Trip Pittman of Daphne, now goes to the House for consideration. Republican Rep. Kerry Rich of Arab, who will handle the bill in the House, said, “I think we can get it up and pass it. The whole deal was getting it out of the Senate.”
The bill provides that when a person applies to the state Department of Human Resources for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the person is suspected of using illegal drugs if they have had a drug conviction in the past five years. The person must take a drug test paid for by the state and will get the welfare benefits while awaiting the results of the drug test. If the person passes the drug test, that’s it.
If the person fails, they get a warning and tested again later. If they fail again, they lose their share of the welfare benefits, but keep the children’s share, and they have to take a third test. If they fail that, the children’s share is transferred to another person, such as a relative.
“This is an attempt to get people off drugs,” Pittman said.
He said it does not involve widespread drug testing and should affect a couple of hundred people each year. The drug testing does not apply to people applying for food stamps, he said.
After his bill passed with few people in the Senate chamber, Pittman and Marsh high-fived each other. Pittman said he was fine with the bill passing with no discussion Wednesday because it had been discussed in detail on a previous day without a vote.