State Sen. Steven Baddour wants to test welfare recipients for drug use but says he's not interested in passing the cup to his fellow legislators.
The Methuen Democrat, whose district includes Haverhill, filed his drug testing proposal as amendment to his welfare reform bill, which was referred for committee review last month.
Similar proposals nationwide have drawn harsh criticism and even counterproposals to require testing of legislators for illicit substances.
Despite the controversy, Baddour said he'll remain resolute in his push for testing as part of welfare reform and called the suggestion that legislators be tested a "red herring."
"It's about drug testing people who should be drug tested," he said. "Those who are opposed to it always try to throw you a curveball to get you off track," he said.
Baddour's "Act relative to welfare reform," filed on Jan. 21, would require all applicants for the EBT program to pay for and undergo a drug test. Those who pass would be repaid for the test. Those who fail wouldn't be reimbursed and would be barred from benefits for a year, with harsher penalties for repeated failures.
A Republican-sponsored drug testing bill passed the House in Indiana on Jan. 30, but only after a Democratic-backed amendment was added to also test state legislators.
Although the Indiana bill includes punishments for aid applicants that are similar to those in Baddour's proposal, it also calls for punishing legislators who decline to take the test by taking away their personal staff, statehouse parking space and office, among other things. Legislators who tested positive would "be assessed a penalty" by their peers in addition to suffering the aforementioned penalties.
The amendment also requires testing results to be published on the state's website.
Baddour and other Massachusetts legislators, however, said such a testing proposal would detract from the need to reform the oft-maligned EBT program.
Baddour said the state welfare program is supposed to be transitional, moving people from dependency to the working world. But the program may not be achieving that goal, he said.
"It's trying to help people," he said. "Are we trying to transition people off welfare or is it becoming generational? Let's get it looked at."
Since announcing his reform bill, Baddour said he's been inundated with words of support from voters, store owners and law enforcement.
Baddour said he received a call from one convenience store owner in Haverhill who described witnessing the use of the EBT card to purchase sweets and sodas.
"You talk to anybody in law enforcement or (those who own) a convenience store they'll tell you of those abuses," Baddour said.
Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, said she wouldn't support any measure to test legislators as she'd consider such tests a waste of taxpayer resources.
"If you test legislators, why wouldn't you test other government employees as well?" she said. "Where would it end?"
Campbell said she'd favor testing government employees in certain positions, such as public safety or the military, but said she thinks it's fair to test those seeking aid from the state's taxpayers.
"They are requesting a service," she said. "This is something they should be willing to do."
Baddour jokingly added he'd be willing to subject himself to a test. "Give me the cup," he said. "I'd be happy to do it."
Drug-testing of welfare recipients has also been proposed in Michigan and Pennsylvania. But a Florida testing program that was signed into law last summer was blocked by a federal court judge last October after the American Civil Liberties Union sued, saying the law was unconstitutional.