The sponsor of a bill that would make it harder for someone with a drug-related felony conviction to receive welfare benefits and food assistance says his measure is intended to force “societal change” and alter the public’s “attitude towards drugs.”

The bill passed in a House appropriations committee today.

State Rep. Jimmie Smith’s bill would disqualify anyone with a drug-related felony conviction from receiving public cash or food assistance unless the applicant has “satisfactorily completed a treatment program or regimen for drug addiction or drug abuse.” Current state law does not require that treatment be completed, although federal laws do allow states to establish the requirement.

Democrats on the committee raised questions about the need for the bill and whether the new requirement would hurt families who are relying on public benefits to survive.

Smith told committee members that his bill was written to change the public’s “attitude towards drugs.” He said Florida’s pill mill crisis is evidence that the state has a “huge drug culture” and that “permissiveness” is a growing problem.

State Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda, said he supports the bill and Smith’s mission. Kreegel brought last year’s controversial law requiring anyone applying for welfare benefits to take a drug test before becoming eligible, which a court recently blocked implementation of. The state, however, has filed an appeal to the court’s decision.

Kreegel said he supported Smith’s bill because the statistics that surfaced during the law’s short-lived implementation were proof that the state has to crack down on drug use.

The agency that was carrying out the drug testing reported to legislators that  2.7 percent of those tested were found positive for drug use. The agency also reported that 563 applicants who started an application failed to “show up” for the drug test. Kreegel said that meant ”there are 1,000 people on drugs out there,” and that the numbers only meant that “9 out of 10 were smart enough to not take the test.”

Smith presented another drug-related bill in the same committee today. That bill would allow state agencies to randomly drug test their employees. However, it was effectively stopped during the meeting.

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