Staff and Wire Reports

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Applicants for a federal program that provides assistance for needy families would be required to undergo drug testing under a bill approved by a Senate panel.

When the federal government started giving out access cards to families on public assistance instead of cash, the goal was to eliminate fraud, but that wasn't the case, according to state Senator Anthony Sykes who heard first-hand from his constituents.

"They witnessed people selling or transferring their cards to another person for cash and then using that for non-approved items," said Sen. Sykes.

Sykes authored Senate Bill 1392 in order to target those who use drugs while collecting government benefits by requiring the Department of Human Services to establish a drug testing program for applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The bill states "those persons refusing to submit to the drug test or having a confirmed positive drug test shall not be eligible to receive assistance."

"I'd like to send that statement out there that Oklahomans are generous. We always have been. If you need to get back on your feet, but we expect you to be drug free while you're doing it," Sykes said.

But Senator Tom Adelson said drug addicts are not the ones who would be punished by this legislation.

"There is a concern, though, that we not restrict children who are eligible from services from receiving those services," Adelson said.

A Senate subcommittee approved the bill on Wednesday. Adelson said if the bill now gets out of the Senate Appropriations Committee, it should be amended to include others who received government funds.

Senator Sykes said there is another bill that tests legislators for illegal drugs, which he supports. Meanwhile, he said he's also considering other amendments to his bill.

"We're going to focus on individuals for now, especially where there are children involved. That's the scope of the bill now, but I'm certainly entertaining a lot of ideas from me and legislators," Sykes said.

Some estimates showed the drug testing program could cost about $3 million, but Senator Sykes said the price tag would be a lot cheaper because the program he's suggesting would require random testing.

Sykes said he wants to bring his bill before the full committee within two weeks.