Bill to require drug tests for Texans on welfare derailed

Posted Wednesday, May. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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A North Texan’s plan to require drug tests for Texans on welfare was talked to death by Democrats this week, creating a near-meltdown in the House as dozens of bills died in its wake.

Tarrant County members were front and center in the drama that unfolded late Tuesday night over the bill by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

Local Republicans tried to protect the bill; local Democrats helped “chub” it, talking about it until time ran out, after points of order and other procedural moves failed.

At midnight Tuesday, the bill — and about 50 others — died.

“A lot of people were involved; this was a team effort to defeat this bill,” said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie. “It was bad public policy.

“It was a solution in search of a problem.”

Nelson, R-Flower Mound, lamented the collapse of her bill.

“They talked it to death,” said Nelson, who represents part of Tarrant County. “I’m sad, very sad.”

“We put safeguards in place to make sure that funds for children of parents who had drug problems would still go to the children. Parents would be circumvented until they got treatment,” she said. “They killed it.”

There was speculation that House members might try to revive SB11 — if they could get two-thirds of the chamber to support it — which hadn’t happened by late Wednesday.

“It’s pretty late,” said Nelson, the Senate’s senior Republican, who heads the Health and Human Service Committee. “But I’ll bring it back next session. It’s a good bill.

“Taxpayer dollars should not go to purchase drugs, which I believe is the case for people who have drug problems.”

Late night drama

Late Tuesday, as a slew of bills already approved by the Senate were on the agenda for debate in the House, SB11 was brought up.

Democrats raised several points of order to try to kill it, filed many amendments and drew out debate, ultimately spending around two hours on the bill to push debate past the midnight deadline and cause it to die.

Some Republicans, including Rep. Giovanni Capriglioni of Southlake, were clearly discouraged.

At one point he stood at the microphone in the back of the chamber, surrounded by Democrats, and wouldn’t let others speak on the bill.

“I was getting very frustrated,” he said. “A lot of us conservative grassroots people are frustrated at a lack of conservative bills getting through. And we finally had a bill most conservatives support and the Democrats started to chub.

“I understand they have the right to do that, but we have voted on their stuff,” he said. “I was tired of the complaining on the bill.”

Capriglioni stood there, preventing others from taking turns to speak about the bill, until the House sergeant-at-arms told him he had to start asking questions or leave the chamber.

“So I started asking questions,” he said shaking his head. “This is a session of missed opportunities.

“Changes we really needed to make didn’t happen.”

‘Ugly stereotype’

Nelson’s bill, which would have made Texas the latest state to join a national movement seeking to ensure that public assistance applicants are drug-free, has drawn support from Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, as well as other Republican leaders.

It was geared to require drug screening for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which is state-run but federally funded.

Turner, chairman of the Democratic House Caucus, was speaking against the bill when the clock struck midnight. “I was glad the bill died,” he said. “This bill brought a lot of anger in our caucus.

“This apparent mindset that if someone is on welfare then there must be drug use, it’s an ugly stereotype.”

And while other bills unrelated to SB11 died as well, Turner said it’s all part of the legislative process.

“Hundreds if not thousands of bills die, being left on a calendar, not making it out of committees,” he said. “Any bills set on the calendar of the last day of consideration are in danger.”

Austin Bureau chief Dave Montgomery contributed to this report.

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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