AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst made a rare joint appearance on Tuesday to advocate drug tests for Texas residents seeking welfare or unemployment benefits.
A bill filed before the Texas Legislature reconvenes in January would mandate drug-testing for "high-risk" welfare applicants while banning them from using public funds to buy alcohol, tobacco and lottery tickets. But Perry and Dewhurst, who controls the flow of legislation through the state Senate, said a top priority should be expanding such rules to include Texans applying for unemployment assistance too.
"This will prevent tax dollars going into the pockets of drug-users and drug dealers," Perry told a news conference at Austin Glass and Mirror, a small business that says it successfully drug-tests its employees.
Dewhurst said that under the current proposal, anyone failing drug tests would be barred from participating in welfare programs for one year — unless they enter a drug rehabilitation program paid for by Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor.
"A lot of recipients are, we think, Medicaid-eligible," Dewhurst said when asked about who could get such treatment.
Perry added that he believes drug-testing will mean less money paid out in benefits and ultimately save Texas money "because of the effect that the screening impact will have on those individuals who would be using drugs."
"This isn't all about punishing," the governor said. "This is also an incentive to get people off these drugs."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas condemned Perry and Dewhurst's calls Tuesday.
"How sad that our state's highest elected officials have embraced this mean-spirited measure that would punish innocent children for their parents' conduct," ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke said in a statement. "This proposal is a costly, ineffective, inhumane and punitive effort by state government based on stereotypes about our state's neediest Texans."