OSWEGO, NY – After nearly an hour of debate Thursday night, the Oswego County Legislature OK’d a resolution in support of Assembly Bill A6146-2013.
The proposed bill would require recipients of certain public assistance programs to submit to drug testing.
The cost of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families benefits in the county is about $7.3 million of the county’s total budget.
According to the resolution: “Some persons have utilized their benefits to acquire narcotics and other controlled substance diverting the benefits from the children and families they were intended to benefit.”
Proponents say that drug testing and screening will help deter illegal drug use and ensure that public benefit monies are used for their intended purposes.
The resolution also notes that the state should not turn around and mandate the county pays for the program.
“There was a willingness, we’re in agreement that we know we’re not going to just sit there and end this today and say we’re happy with the Assembly bill,” Minority Leader Mike Kunzwiler said following the meeting. “We’re going to keep pursuing this. We’re going to pursue it together.”
If the county doesn’t do that, the state will just say that Oswego County is happy with the way things are.
“We can’t send that message,” Kunzwiler said. “That’s not the message we want to send. We want to send the message that together we want to make sure that it’s a bill that does what it says it’s going to do.”
Legislator Shawn Doyle (R), agreed
“I think this is great. It was good discussion and it was good that everybody could vote together. We all want the same thing,” Doyle said. “This isn’t a perfect bill. (Legislator) Shane (Broadwell) found some problems in committee that were brought up by both sides. We worked those out.”
“That’s good. That’s the way it should work,” Kunzwiler said. “It’s OK to have questions. We’re working together to get the answers.”
James Karasek said he’s spent the last three years advocating for this type of program.
“I’m very pleased to see at least an attempt to move this. I think that this is an important part of change that we’re going to see down the road,” he said. “Things have to change. We have to change the way we handle people that come into the benefits system.”
Legislator Amy Tresidder (D) said she hopes the resolution means the state will pay for the drug testing as well as other costs associated with the program.
“This could be very costly. And, I’d like to see that cost taken by the state of New York rather than our county,” she said. “While we agree with the concept … we need to make sure that it is affordable, cost effective and that we’re not left with the bill.”
During the meeting, Kunzwiler said he supported the idea, but didn’t want to put the cart before the horse.
Legislator Doug Malone said the legislature’s resolution was “sloppy.” It needs more teeth, he added.
“I’m telling ya right now, the state will not buy into this,” he said.
He also wondered what would happen to the children and other family members of violators.
Vice Chairman Terry Wilbur (R) pointed out that “Everybody’s forgetting that if you take the money away from the people who are using the drugs that’s going to go and allow that money to help these people. I’m going to support this a 110 percent. We need to be able to take the drugs out of it, stop that funding source for the people who are on drugs. It’s not going to be a cure-all but we definitely need to get moving on this.”
“Somewhere, in all the hyperbole that has taken place this evening on this question … we’ve overlooked the fact that this is just Oswego County stating a philosophical position regarding drug testing and requesting that our representative at the state level consider this and offering the suggestion that if it is important enough to the state that drug testing be initiated that they not pass that cost down to the counties. That’s all this (resolution) does. It does nothing more than that. We need to take that step forward and let them know in Albany where we stand and how we would like this done,” he said.
Legislator Broadwell, chair of the Human Services Committee, agreed.
“This opens the door to bigger discussions,” he said.
Tresidder said the county must keep talking to the state about the program. “We have to keep asking them questions. We have to stay on top of this bill,” she said.