Amid such debate, the Senate voted 22-4 to give preliminary approval of HB155, and sent it to a final vote.
The bill would require those who receive cash assistance and participate in Utah's Family Employment Program to fill out a questionnaire and, if answers create suspicions that applicants are using drugs, to take a drug test. If drug tests come up positive, they are then required to undergo treatment.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-West Jordan, the Senate sponsor of the bill, said people would not lose benefits unless they refuse to answer the questionnaire, refuse to take drug tests or do not keep up with treatment as shown by failing drug tests.
Osmond said the change is designed to help, not put down, people in the program by identifying early on those who may have substance abuse problems in order to help overcome them. "This bill is both compassionate and addresses the fact that if they have a drug problem, it's going to be very hard for them to keep a job," Osmond said.
But Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said he felt requiring drug tests of welfare recipients "really gets to that person's dignity." Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, said the proposal has "murky constitutionality."
Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said it could force people with drug problems into a "one size fits all" treatment program that is likely to fail for many. He said that would unjustly deny their children welfare benefits if they fail drug tests.
But Hinkins said, "We're not denying the child. The drug user is the one denying the child."
Hinkins added he feels that many drug users need to hit bottom before they will really change. "If we have all these safety nets for them… they never hit bottom and they never will correct it." He noted that many workers must take drug tests for their jobs, so he feels it is not too much to ask people in the state program to do so.