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Florida House panel advances measure on drug testing welfare recipients

A measure requiring needy recipients of temporary cash assistance with a history of drug offenses to be screened for narcotic use at their own expense cleared a Florida House health care panel Wednesday. #

Under the measure, backed by state Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, people receiving cash assistance who have a felony drug conviction within the previous three years will have to submit to three years of drug tests. #

Those who refuse tests can be disqualified from receiving benefits. Those who test positive with have to take a second test, and could lose access to benefits for three years. State Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, said three years seemed like a long time to deny benefits. #

“We want our citizens to be rehabilitated,” she said. #

Rep. Brad Drake, R-DeFuniak Springs, said the goal of assistance programs is to “help people help themselves,” and that buying “dope” would demonstrate a lack of willingness to do so. #

According to committee staff, the Department of Children and Families, which administers the program, estimated that 1.7 percent of existing recipients have prior drug felony convictions, and between 170 and 340 people may test positive. #

Recipients would pay for the tests themselves. According to staff analysis, initial tests would cost $10. If someone tests positive, they would require an additional test, which would cost an estimated $25. The current version of the bill does not specify when or how often people will be tested. #

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