INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The fate of a divisive proposal to drug test welfare recipients died in the final minutes of the Indiana legislative session Thursday in a rare failed floor vote.
The bill powered through the Republican-dominated House but faced roadblocks with both parties in the Senate, where leaders criticized the measure as needlessly expensive and discriminatory against the poor.
In the final votes the House passed the measure 81-17, but the Senate defeated the bill 24-24 after senators from both sides of the aisle criticized the bill.
“We peeled the onion last night up here at the microphone,” Senate President Pro Tem David Long said. “In the end, this wasn’t thought through as well as it could have been.”
The bill was the second to last to come before the Senate late Thursday night. Only five of the hundreds of bills tackled this session were voted down in the final round of voting, and the usual low rumble in the Senate chamber quieted until barely a sound was heard when the vote count was tallied.
Although the House and Senate successfully compromised on big-ticket items such as a business tax package and the potential release of $400 million to spruce up Indiana roads, disagreements between the chambers ultimately led to the death of the drug testing proposal.
Bill author Rep. Jud McMillin this week undid Senate changes that would have limited testing to only Temporary Assistance for Needy Families applicants with prior drug convictions. The original bill requires all beneficiaries to be screened for likelihood of addiction and then potentially be tested.
Whether drug testing certain TANF recipients would pass constitutional muster is unclear. A similar Florida measure was ruled unconstitutional last year, and American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana Legal Director Kenneth Falk said the Indiana bill likely would have met a similar end.
Senators also earlier nixed a measure to restrict what can be bought with government food assistance to only items deemed “nutritional” by the state.
Senate Democrats called the measure a “war on the poor,” while Republicans spoke against the high price tag to catch an estimated 5 percent or less of TANF recipients abusing drugs. Earlier estimates from the Legislative Services Agency show the policy could save about $520,000 but cost up to $1.83 million to implement over two years.
Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, said the price tag could have been closer to $2.5 million.
“It was a much different bill,” said Becker, who voted for the earlier Senate-approved version of the proposal, “a much less expensive bill.”