Virginia Senate rejects welfare drug-testing

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Republican-backed legislation to require drug screening of welfare recipients died by one vote in the evenly divided Senate on Monday when one GOP lawmaker did not vote, avoiding a deadlock that would have put the bill's fate in the hands of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

Last year, the Republican lieutenant governor - who presides over the Senate - cast the tie-breaking vote to pass similar legislation, which later died in the House of Delegates. With Sen. Harry Blevins of Virginia Beach not voting, the Senate killed this year's version of the measure 20-19.

The legislation sponsored by Sen. Charles W. "Bill" Carrico, R-Grayson, would have required an initial drug screening of all state welfare applicants, followed by testing if officials suspected illegal drug use. Anyone testing positive would have to enter a treatment program or lose benefits for a year.

Sen. Steve Martin, R-Chesterfield and sponsor of last year's failed legislation, said the bill ensures that taxpayer money is not being used to support a drug problem "that destroys a home rather than strengthens it."

Opponents argued that a similar Florida program cost more money than it saved before being ruled unconstitutional. They also said there is no evidence of widespread drug use among welfare recipients.

"Why are poor people singled out for testing?" asked Sen. Mamie E. Locke, D-Hampton. "Why not legislators or bailed-out CEOs?"