Drug test for state aid?

Yvette Perez
Yvette Perez

By Ben Briscoe
NewsChannel 10

CLOVIS, NEW MEXICO - Yvette Perez has received unemployment benefits since being laid off about six months ago.

"I'm glad I have it because it helps me out a little and a little is better than nothing," she said.

But under two, separate proposed bills in the New Mexico House and Senate, people like Yvette would have to take drug tests before they could get that help. It's supposed to help save the state money in the long run.

"If you don't want to comply, move elsewhere," Representative Candy Ezzell said.

Ezzell is the author of one of those proposed bills. She says by weeding out drug addicts, you make public assistance more of a one time help instead of a way of life.

"What we are doing is to help our families become stronger by recognizing first and foremost that there is a problem," Ezzell said.

Not everyone agrees.  The ACLU is already planning a challenge to the legislation. They say it's unconstitutional and only targets low-income people.

"Why not also target people who receive tax credits, home subsidies, people who receive state lottery scholarships?" ACLU Director Peter Simonson said.

Other critics have raised concerns about the plan's cost. Drug tests can run about $50 a piece. But Representative Ezzell fires back with:

"In the long run, it will be a lot cheaper than incarcerating the person," she said.

And if you ask people on the programs, most seem to like the idea including Perez.

"I'm drug free and I have no interest in drugs," she said, "and so I feel like people who are on drugs do not deserve that opportunity."

This will be the second time legislation like this has been proposed in New Mexico. About four years ago the bill died before even making it to a final vote.

- KRQE also contributed to this report.