As deadline looms, doped-up KS lawmakers could escape punishment

NO WORRIES: While legislation passed last year allows for lawmakers to be drug tested, it didn’t include any consequences for testing positive.

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — The clock is ticking, and unless the Kansas Legislature acts fast, doped-up lawmakers could fail a drug test and get off scot-free.

Legislation in the form of SB 149, signed into law last year, created measures by which Kansas welfare recipients could be required to submit to a drug test if suspected of using illegal substances. The law includes similar provisions for elected officials in the Kansas House and Senate.

What’s the difference?

While welfare recipients could be barred from receiving payments and compelled to undergo substance abuse and job skills programs, the same can’t be said of state lawmakers, according to Jeff Russell, director of Legislative Administrative Services.

“Test results are confidential, therefore there can be no ‘punitive’ action, not to mention the fact that the bill offers no guidelines as to what those actions might be,” Russell told Kansas Watchdog.

Legislation introduced by Democratic Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka earlier this month would change all that. Nearly identical to an amendment he proposed to SB 149, which was summarily defeated at the time, Hensley’s SB 391 would force a lawmaker who tests positive to undergo a drug treatment program or have their legislative pay cut off.

A second test would result in yet another treatment program requirement, and the official wouldn’t receive legislative pay for either 12 months or until the program is completed. Upon a third strike, Hensley’s bill would permanently eliminate a lawmaker’s compensation.

However, the bill will be officially dead unless it can pass through committee and the Senate as a whole within the next week. The legislative turnaround deadline is Feb. 28, after which the Legislature can no longer consider bills still in the house of origin, save for a few select committees.

According to KSLegislature.org, the Senate Judiciary Committee isn’t one of them.

Whether or not the bill even has a chance of passing its first hurdle, a committee vote, is up to judiciary chair Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence. The bill was introduced on Feb. 12, and so far hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing.

King joined 20 other senators last year in voting against Hensley’s amendment, which would have included the consequences in the original bill.

Neither Hensley nor King responded to calls for comment.

Related: Dopey law: KS lawmakers who use drugs could get special treatment

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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