SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill to require drug screening for people receiving public assistance has cleared another key hurdle as it makes its way through the Legislature.
House Bill 155, sponsored by Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, was approved on the first reading Wednesday by the Senate and has been moved to the body's third reading calendar for final review.
The bill would require any parent who qualifies for cash assistance under Utah's Family Employment Program to complete a written questionnaire about potential drug problems, and then to submit to a drug test and to enter a treatment program if evidence of drug use is found.
The person does not lose state assistance for participating in the program or being diagnosed with a drug problem, several lawmakers said.
But some lawmakers consider the program as another way to punish the poor.
"If you are poor and need help, we're going to come after you, and we're not going to be a support to you in any other way," Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said of the bill.
Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said the bill takes away the dignity of people in need by putting specific requirements on them.
One local lawmaker doesn't see much merit to the bill, even though he supported it.
Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, said asking recipients to respond to a questionnaire is weak.
"It's akin to asking you on a questionnaire if you are an illegal alien. It's a pretty weak excuse for weeding out people."
The program is not intended to weed out people as much as help them, said Senate co-sponsor Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, who said access to cash assistance is not limited for those who take part in the initiative.
One senator bristled at the idea that the program is aimed at hurting the children of parents with a drug problem.
"We're not denying the child. The drug user is the one who is denying the child," said Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville.
He said the drug screening program does not go far enough. Most employers now require a drug test, so he doesn't think it's out of bounds to require the same for recipients of state program benefits.
"I think it's a shame when people who have to work have to take a drug test, when those who go fishing in the afternoon don't."