DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado lawmakers are taking up an issue stirring up controversy across the country — requiring welfare recipients to take drug tests.
“I think that this is unfair to be treating poor people like criminals,” said Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora.
“If you have enough money to buy drugs you don’t need the money from the state or the federal government,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.
The bill was introduced this week by Sonnenberg, who says the bill makes sense, ensuring those who really need welfare get the benefits.
“Essentially in order for you to get your check you have to be drug free,” Sonnenberg said. “If you are drug free, we will pay for that drug test we’ll reimburse that drug test.”
Fields says the $45 test forces those already in need to pay for help.
“What if they don’t have the $45 to pay for the drug test, does that mean that we will not feed and provide assistance to that family?” Fields said.
If someone fails they are ineligible to reapply for a full year, unless they seek treatment.
“We want you in treatment; get off the drug and once you complete that then in 6 months you can reapply and then we can get you the money,” Sonnenberg said.
Fields says the program would be costly and if the poor should be drug tested to receive government money, then so should state lawmakers.
“As an elected official whose salary is paid by taxpayers, then I think everyone in the House of Representatives and the Senate should also be required,” Fields said.
Fields says the estimated cost is $200,000 to administer the program but she believes it would cost much more.
The bill moves to the Finance Committee next week.
Thirty-six states are considering similar measures. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently voiced support for such laws. Twelve states are looking at drug testing for unemployment benefits.