South Dakota ‘Republicans’ Opt Against Fiscal, Personal Responsibility

Army Staff Sgt. Tammy Reels, with the 115th Military Police Company, Rhode Island Army National Guard, practices applying tamper evident tape to a specimen bottle. Service members undergo routine random drug testing (Photo credit: Shereen Grouby)

Two bills dealing with drug testing of welfare recipients were heard–and killed–in committee in the “Republican” controlled South Dakota House of Representatives today. One dealt primarily with Medicaid recipients suspected of using illegal drugs, and the other dealt with TANF recipients suspected of using illegal drugs.

HB 1268 was examined first. Rep. Mark Kirkeby, the prime sponsor, began by speaking in defense of the bill.  Kirkeby’s defense of the legislation, which lasted less than four minutes, was the only testimony offered in defense of the bill.

Several agencies and groups spoke in opposition to the bill including the Department of Social Services and the ACLU.  It was stated that federal Medicaid law prohibits the states from acting in a manner which promotes personal responsibility, protects families and defends the taxpayer’s interests.

Objections included a lack of treatment provisions within the bill (to treat an illegal behavior that the recipient freely chose to engage in), that the legislation was “punitive” in nature, claims that it would harm children (who may currently be exposed to illegal drug use in the home, and are in the care of potentially intoxicated parents), and that it was “humiliating” for a suspected user of illegal drugs who is receiving money from the taxpayers to undergo drug testing when there is reason to believe they are using illegal drugs.

In rebuttal, Kirkeby pointed out that not a single opponent offered support for the merits of reducing or preventing illegal drug use.  Kirkeby said he works with the Salvation Army and understands the challenges facing needy families. Regarding the welfare of children of drug users, Kirkeby pointed out that there are multiple tools within the “safety net” to ensure the welfare of children.

Rep. Susy Blake asked Kirkeby a bunch of questions about whether the drug testing would be done in the recipient’s home, whether transportation would be provided to the recipient for drug testing, whether child care would be provided while the recipient went to a drug testing facility.

Rep. Steve Hickey was also a sponsor of this legislation and said that while he planned to vote against the legislation “for the reason of the imposing additional eligibility criteria,” these bills are the result of legislators listening to the “outrage” of their constituents at government spending. He pointed out that legislators are responsible for all spending, and legislators need to pay attention to why these bills keep coming. People are highly dissatisfied with the entitlement mentality, and that entitlement spending is unsustainable, said Hickey.

Rep. Larry Lucas moved to kill the bill and the motion was seconded by Blake. One of the legislators (I wasn’t sure which one, from the audio recording) spoke in favor of killing the bill, stating that the war on drugs has been fought for a long time, made references to prescription drug advertisements and drinking coffee. Rep. Melissa Magstadt spoke in favor of killing the bill, citing some statistics from a Medicaid solutions workgroup study which said a large number of recipients are children, as well as pregnant, elderly, disabled, a parent with low income, etc. She said those are “populations that we’re going to pay for in one way or another in health care. We’re not going to deny care to a pregnant woman, we’re not going to kick grandma out of a nursing home, nor deny services to the disabled in the community.” She said she agreed with the “accountability and stewardship piece of this,” she said she was not sure this was the way to accomplish that goal.

A substitute motion was made by Munsterman to cross out “Medicaid” everywhere in the bill, and to omit in Section 3 starting at “anyone requested” and all of line 6 and 7, and #1 and #2. This would remove the references to Medicaid and to the denial of services as a result of a positive drug test. However, the Secretary of Social Services pointed out that simply striking out “Medicaid” left the interpretation of what assistance might fall under this legislation so broad that there would be “serious logistical issues” in defining it much less implementing it. A voice vote was taken on the amendment with the amendment failing.

A roll call vote was then taken on the motion to kill the bill with the following results:

Blake – Y Haggar – N Holly-Y Hickey – Y Iron Cloud – Y Jensen – N Lucas – Y Magstadt – Y Sly – Y Steele – N Stricherz – Y Munsterman – N Boomgarden – Y

The bill was killed 9-4.

HB 1174 dealt with TANF and SNAP recipients. Rep Venner, the prime sponsor, began by offering an amendment to remove SNAP from the bill in order focus on TANF.  Venner said the amendment would allow the recipient a choice if positive results were returned to a drug test: lose benefits or enroll in a drug treatment program.

Rep. Mark Venner followed on by stating that he went to the law library in the capitol and found in the federal statutes the following statement: “Not withstanding any other provision of law, states will not be prohibited by the federal government from testing welfare recipients for use of controlled substance nor from sanctioning welfare recipients who test positive for use of controlled substances.”

Stan Schwellenbach, a housing provider in Pierre, spoke in favor of the bill. He said that in his line of work, he sees the need for this legislation, and that this legislation could help break the chain of abuse and help children succeed by ensuring the best possible home environment.

A lady from Rapid City testified that as a school nurse, she had also seen the need for this legislation played out in the lives of children who sought her services at school. She saw some of these children grow up to get on welfare and use drugs, and said that if they had been tested for drugs, their lives might have turned out differently. She mentioned one that ended up committing suicide.

Kim Malsam-Rysdon of the Department of Social Services representative spoke against the bill, that many people assume that people who do things they don’t like are on TANF.  She admitted that drug testing is permitted in TANF and nine states already do this. Florida’s law is being challenged because it does not require suspicion of drug use as a requirement of testing. She said recipients are required to work at least 20 hours a week to qualify for TANF.  She also said social workers are not trained to recognize drug use, whether prescription or illegal drugs.

Several other social agencies and groups spoke in opposition to HB 1174.

A voice vote was held on the amendment which was adopted without dissent.

Rep. Scott Munsterman proposed another amendment which was adopted, then motioned for passage of the bill. Speaking in support of the bill, Rep. Hickey said that this legislation was bigger than the number of people receiving TANF, that it was a way of communicating to the people they were elected to represent that “We get it.” Implications had been made during several testimonials that supporters of the bill are callous and don’t care about the poor, but Hickey counseled those present not to make that assumption.

The vote was then taken on passage of the bill:

Blake – N Hagger – Y Holly – N Hickey – Y Iron Cloud – N Jensen – Y Lucas – N Magstadt – N Sly – N Steele – Y Stricherz – N Munsterman – Y Boomgarden – N

The bill failed 8-5.

Apparently it’s still okay in South Dakota for parents of young children to use illegal drugs and for government to force the taxpayers to subsidize illegal drug use. Heaven forbid we expect government bureaucrats to grow a spine, act responsibly and require those receiving government largess they did not earn to behave responsibly.


  1. Anonymous says:

    Bob, it would be OK if the legislature included themselves on this testing.  After all they all get state taxes to pay their salary.  Why not the governor, we could all be surprised. 

    • Bob Ellis says:

      It’d be great if we could just get them to authorize testing of suspected drug using welfare recipients; getting themselves tested would definitely be a bonus!