State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, is sponsoring legislation to prevent some welfare recipients from collecting benefits unless they pass drug tests.
"The basic theme is we want to put integrity and accountability back in the welfare system. We don't want to deny benefits to anyone who qualifies for them," he said.
The bill represents a number of pieces of legislation being pushed by House Republicans in an effort to help "rebuild Pennsylvania's broken welfare system."
Other measures are those intended to stop misuse and abuse of welfare programs including strengthening penalties on fraud, preventing welfare dollars to be used for purchases of tobacco products, and ensuring accountability and eligibility.
The drug testing bill targets people receiving funds for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance.
Everett said it is aimed at those with previous felony drug convictions and calls for random testing of some 20 percent of those individuals every six months.
The lawmaker said it is not a measure intended to hurt those with drug problems.
Welfare recipients who obtain illegal drugs are breaking a contract with the state, he said. "I don't think the people of Pennsylvania should subsidize them breaking the law."
A number of employers, he said, including gas companies and Susquehanna Health, already test their employees for drugs.
And nothing is to stop those with drug problems to seek treatment.
"I don't think it's over-reaching," he said of the legislation.
Welfare, Everett said, is designed as temporary assistance for people until they find work and contribute to society, not as a means of living at length off the backs of the employed who pay taxes.
Everett said one estimate puts the start-up costs of implementing the drug testing at $1 million.
But over time those costs would more than offset the misuse that would occur. In addition, drug testing likely would stop many drug users from applying for benefits.
"Other states that have instituted similar programs find the savings to be substantial," he said.
State Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, said the bill runs the risk of not holding up legally. The state of Michigan, he said, was sued in federal court for passing similar legislation.
An appeals court later agreed with the earlier federal court ruling that drug testing did not satisfy a public need.
It was found that testing turned up drug use in just 8 percent of the welfare population, which mirrored that of the general public, Mirabito said.
"It was determined to be an invasion of privacy," he explained.
Mirabito said he does not support giving government money to users of illegal drugs. But unless the drug testing legislation has been thoroughly researched from a legal standpoint, it would be wrong to try to pass such a bill, he added.