Bill calls for random drug tests of Nevada welfare recipients

CARSON CITY — Rather than punishing drug users, state Sen. James Settelmeyer said this week he wants to “get them some help” through a bill to require people receiving public aid to submit to random drug tests.

“The idea is to get people straight,” Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said Wednesday. “If you are on drugs and the state is continuing to give you funds, we aren’t getting to the root of the problem. The state has a right to ensure public funds are not used for illicit purposes.”

But Settelmeyer had no other legislators to co-sign as sponsors of his bill, Senate Bill 89. That is usually an indication that there is little support for a bill.

Only three states have laws that make receipt of public benefits dependent on passing drug tests. More than two dozen states rejected bills last year similar to what the senator is proposing. Settelmeyer himself tried to pass a drug test bill as an Assembly member several sessions ago and found little support.

Democrats control both houses of the Legislature in Nevada. Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said she has not seen Settelmeyer’s bill and would not give her view. Gov. Brian Sandoval will not decide whether he will sign the bill until it reaches his desk, his spokeswoman said.

Under the senator’s bill, which was introduced Wednesday, if an oral drug test found someone was using an illicit substance, then that person would have to enroll in a rehabilitation program or lose benefits. If after rehabilitation, the person still tested positive for drug use, then benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid or welfare would be taken.

Florida and Missouri passed laws in 2011 requiring drug testing. Arizona law allows the testing of recipients suspected of drug use.

Under the Florida law, a person loses benefits for one year for a positive test. In Missouri, funds are taken from the person who tests positive for six months but not from other members of a family.

A 1996 federal welfare law gave states the option of requiring drug tests as a condition of their residents receiving welfare benefits.

Settelmeyer said his bill would not hurt the children of someone receiving food stamps or other aid, but give their parents an opportunity to get help before any funds are taken. Only if the parents tested positive again after rehabilitation would funds be taken from the family.

He said legislative staff members in the past erroneously estimated the cost of drug testing at $300 to $400 a person. But in reality an oral swab test costs $10, according to Settelmeyer.

Settelmeyer acknowledged his bill has a “bucket problem,” meaning there is no bucket of funds available for rehabilitation costs.

He said his bill would not affect people who have permission to use marijuana or other drugs for medical reasons.

Settelmeyer added that American Indians are required by federal law to submit to drug and alcohol tests as a condition of receiving welfare, and other people should have the same requirement.

As a person with libertarian leanings, he said he does not care what people do if they don’t use government to help to pay for their habits.

He added he has visited welfare offices and been told the drug use is a problem.

Mary Woods, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said state agency’s staff has no indication people receiving aid are using drugs.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.