TN Lawmakers try again for welfare drug testing

(WMC-TV) - Tennessee lawmakers are once again proposing legislation that would require drug testing for welfare recipients.

The measure has stalled in the Legislature, mainly because it would cost millions of dollars to implement.

But its House sponsor, Republican Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville, told said he hopes a review of the fiscal note will bring the cost down and get the proposal moving again.

If the bill were to pass it would be costly to enforce. The estimated cost to the state.this fiscal year is more than $2.7 million. In 2012, the cost rises to $3.8 million. But the state only expects to increase revenue a little over half a million this year, and $1.1 million in 2012.

"If you decide or make the decision that you're going to do drugs, then the taxpayers are not going to be subsidizing you with public assistance," Dunn said Friday.

Welfare recipients who test positive for drug use would lose their benefits for one year. Critics believe the drug testing legislation would be tougher on an already struggling population.

"It seems like justified racism, because a lot of the poor, especially in Memphis, are African American. We have a huge homeless population," Owen Franke said.

Lawmakers did approve a bill that cuts off welfare recipients who have been convicted of drug-related felonies unless they enroll in a treatment program.

Lawmakers who support the bill say it may also cut the costs of the war on drugs in the state.

"We are going to have to look at a comprehensive policy to do something before our whole state is populated with zombies," Dunn said.

Copyright 2011 WMC-TV. All rights reserved. The AP contributed to this story.