March 29, 2012

(Denver) – Under withering criticism from House Democrats, Republicans pulled the plug today on their bill to require applicants for public assistance to pass a drug test to qualify for benefits.

Democrats paraded to the well to denounce HB12-1046, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), as an unconstitutional presumption of guilt, a waste of effort since other states have found that public assistance recipients abuse drugs at a much lower rate than the rest of the population, and a waste of money since it carried a fiscal note of more than $200,000.

Rep. John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins) noted that the bill provided no substance-abuse treatment for people who failed the test, even given the connection between substance abuse and domestic violence, especially the great potential for harm to women living in abusive situations. “This bill would increase costs to counties and exclude citizens from public assistance to better their lives and receive needed treatment,” he said.

Rep. Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver), the House Democratic leader, tried to point out the absurdity of the bill by amending it to require legislators and other elected state officials to submit to the same drug testing, with fines for failure. When Republicans offered their own version of the amendment removing the penalty, Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder) cut to the chase.

“I don’t think you make a bad bill better by applying an unconstitutional standard and an unfounded presumption to more people,” she told the House. “We need to talk about the presumption this bill is making about public assistance recipients and the unconstitutional nature of that presumption.”

When the bill came to a voice vote, Rep. Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland), who had the gavel, ruled that the nos had it – an unusual move when it’s routine to rule in favor of the majority party on voice votes that would fail a decibel-meter test.

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