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Bipartisan Opposition Grows for SD Welfare Drug Testing

Several South Dakota lawmakers want to make drug testing mandatory for people who apply for public benefits. (iStockphoto)
Several South Dakota lawmakers want to make drug testing mandatory for people who apply for public benefits. (iStockphoto)
January 25, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota residents who apply for public assistance programs would have to pass a drug test before receiving help, such as food stamps, if new legislation passes.

Republican state Rep. Lynne DiSanto introduced the bill late last week. She says the idea is to ensure that South Dakota taxpayers are not, in her words, "subsidizing people's drug habits."

However, the move already faces opposition from some of her House colleagues, including Democratic Rep. Spencer Hawley.

"I don't support it,” he states. “We've had this bill before in South Dakota and when our Department of Social Services testified in the past, the cost of this makes it really expensive."

The bill would require applicants for public benefits under age 65 to pay at least a $25 fee to take the drug test. If they are denied benefits, the proposal would allow them to contest it.

Last year, the head of the state's Department of Social Services opposed a similar bill, saying there is no evidence that people who receive assistance use drugs more than any other segment of the population.

Hawley adds these types of drug-testing laws haven't had good outcomes in other states.

"They have found after this major cost to do all the testing, it affects 1 to 2 percent of the recipients,” he points out. “So, that isn't a problem. Just because a person has low income doesn't mean they're a drug user."

State Sen. Betty Olson is a primary sponsor of the bill in the Senate. Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard has criticized the proposal, calling it "somewhat insulting."

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - SD