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Senate Panel Would End Welfare Drug-Testing

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Just because a Minnesota welfare recipient is a convicted drug felon doesn’t mean that person must be subject to random drug tests, members of a state Senate health and human services panel decided on Monday.

Legislation by Minneapolis Democrat Sen. Jeff Hayden seeks to repeal a 2012 law mandating random drug tests for welfare recipients if they’ve been convicted of a felony drug offense during the last 10 years.

At least nine states have passed similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter told panel members that the Minnesota law is an unfunded mandate that wastes taxpayers money.

Counties have had to create a protocol to test a group that in several cases makes up less than 2 percent of welfare recipients, Carter said. In rural areas, county governments sometimes have had to establish a testing system for just a few people.

Hayden’s bill would remove the state mandate and leave it up to individual counties whether to test.

But committee Republicans opposed the change.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said Hayden’s bill would be a backward step.

“This establishes no limits at all,” Rosen said.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said the law isn’t about catching people. “This is about protecting children,” Nienow said.

Hayden and Carter said the perception that many welfare recipients use drugs is false.

“The opposite is true,” Carter said.

A bill similar to Hayden’s is moving through the state House under the guidance of Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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