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WV Democrats Say No to Vote on Drug Testing Bill

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03/31/2009 10:24 PM
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WV Democrats Say No to Vote on Drug Testing Bill
WV Democrats Say No to Vote on Drug Testing Bill
Brian Caldwell, who told reporters he often swapped food stamps for drugs, typically $100 in stamps for $50 in narcotics, and that his own experience taught him most people were doing as he did

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Avoiding controversy for the second day running, House Democrats refused Tuesday to allow a vote on proposed drug testing of folks on public assistance — an idea that has gained national attention.

In one final appeal, the bill’s architect, Delegate Craig Blair, warned West Virginia was mired in a drug “crisis” and said his legislation was intended to wean addicts off narcotics while saving money for the unemployment compensation fund.

Blair wanted to impose random testing on anyone getting a welfare check, food stamps and unemployment benefits.

One positive test would have given them two months to come clean, but if a second exam likewise exposed drug abuse, the recipient would have been shut off from the dole.

Only a day earlier, again voting almost exclusively along party lines, the House refused to let the chamber vote on giving West Virginians the chance to vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as an act between “one man, one woman.”

The vote on Blair’s “two strikes and you’re out bill,” one that thrust him into the newsrooms of CNN and Fox News, was almost identical.

In fact, the only Democrat again joining the Republicans — Tom Louisos of Fayette County.

Before the vote, Louisos was still seething about the failure of his party to vote on the marriage amendment.

More than 50,000 hits were recorded on Blair’s special Web site, www.notwithmytaxdollars, he dedicated to the bill, and the delegate said he got 5,000 e-mails and “phone calls I can’t even begin to count.”

By disallowing a vote, Blair said, the Democrats had thwarted the will of most West Virginians.

Blair tried to dislodge HB3007 from the judiciary committee, where Chair Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, had kept it bottled up since day one of this session.

“The vast number of people have told me, ‘If I’m drug-tested to go to work, certainly the people that are receiving my tax dollars I pay into have to do this,’” Blair said in his floor speech.

Blair said his intention was to get people unhooked so they could re-enter the workforce and simultaneously spare children who would be born addicted to drugs.

“Without question, we are in a crisis situation in West Virginia as well as throughout the United States with drug abuse,” the Eastern Panhandle lawmaker said.

Blair fired back at critics who accused him of targeting the poor.

“That is false,” he said. “This is trying to make sure that we’re going to have the resources for those that are truly in need.”

Opposition came largely from the West Virginia Council of Churches and several labor groups.

Some lawmakers felt the testing would be costly, but Blair said it would cost far more to treat children over a lifetime that were born addicted.

“We all know what the backside expenses are when it comes to talking about our children and children of drug-addicted families where the neighbors or grandparents are actually feeding these children,” he said.

The vote crushing his bid for a floor vote came after Blair warned he would amend the bill so that “politicians and legislators” would be tested as well, as one citizen advised him.

“We should be leading by example,” Blair said.

Blair’s only remaining gambit — a remote one, at that — is to attempt to amend his bill into other legislation, such as the unemployment bill.

Before the vote, Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, the longest-serving member of the House, chastised Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, suggesting he broke his pledge in seeking the gavel to assure free and open debate.

“To be shutting debate before debate occurs, as happened yesterday, is just unconscionable to an open and transparent process,” Overington said.

“All voices should be allowed to be heard and represented.”

[link to www.register-herald.com]