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Lakota Country Times: Indian lawmakers oppose drug testing bill

South Dakota Rep. Kevin Killer (D), second from left, speaks with Oglala Sioux Tribe President John Yellow Bird Steele at the State Capitol. Photo by South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations / Facebook

Drug testing for Welfare recipients?
By Brandon Ecoffey
Lakota Country Times Editor

PINE RIDGE— A new bill introduced in to the South Dakota Legislature that would subject welfare applicants to mandatory drug testing has been met with stiff criticism from two Lakota state lawmakers.

According to KELOLAND the legislation was authored by Representative Lynne DiSanto of Rapid City and Senator Betty Olson of Prairie City and would mandate that every person applying for welfare and other cash assistance programs be tested for drugs.

In a quote to KELOLAND, Disanto compared the proposed testing to other requirements imposed on employees.

"I would say with just about any employer that you apply for a job with you have to submit to a drug test, and I don't see how this is any different from that. It is not that you're being forced to submit to a drug test. It's elective. You have the option." DiSanto said.

The proposed welfare reforms may however run in to some legal snags as a similar law in Florida was struck down by a federal court in 2013. The court ruled that because the state failed to demonstrate “a more prevalent, unique or different drug problem among TANF applicants than in the general population.” Ultimately the law was deemed as a violation of the “unreasonable search and seizures” clause of the United States constitution.

Shawn Bordeaux and Kevin Killer are two Lakota currently seated in the state legislature and have both stated that they oppose the bill’s passage.

“It has been tried in other states without a lot of success. There are more meaningful and thoughtful ways to offer people a hand up than legislation that is meant to cause division against former or future taxpayers,” said Rep. Killer.

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For Bordeaux, the human impact of a law like this is enough in itself to reject it.

“I’m opposed to it because it impacts a lot of Native kids. This is another penalty they have to suffer on top of addiction,” he said. “If a family member is receiving support from a state or federal policy this just makes it harder for them to get the help that they need,” he added.

As part of the bill’s package those applying for aid would also have to pay a one time fee of $25-$30.

“I think that is even worse yet. To reduce the costs of the state at the expense of those people needing help the most isn’t good policy,” said Bordeaux. “What do they plan to do with those families? Are they just kicked out now? Now these families have less funds for food in addition to an addicted parent. I just don’t see how this could be good for South Dakota.”

At least thirteen states have already passed legislation requiring drug testing for welfare recipients. Federal courts have allowed states to enact drug testing for welfare policies only if specific language is included requiring states to have reasonable suspicion to test an applicant.

Federal government officials have indicated to states that drug testing individuals who are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment and Training program cannot be screened for drugs. Wisconsin, however, has challenged this position by suing the federal government.

UPDATE: Amid opposition from Indian lawmakers and Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R), a House committee on January 28 voted to defer the bill, effectively killing it for the current session, the Associated Press reported.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

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