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Only 12 test positive in Utah drug screening

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah has spent more than $30,000 to screen welfare applicants for drug use since a new law went into effect a year ago, but only 12 people have tested positive, state figures show.

The data from August 2012 through July 2013 indicates the state spent almost $6,000 to give 4,730 applicants a written test. After 466 showed a likelihood of drug use, they were given drug tests at a total cost of more than $25,000, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, which administers welfare benefits and the tests.

Kaysville Republican Rep. Brad Wilson and South Jordan Republican Sen. Aaron Osmond sponsored the legislation last year and did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Wilson said in July that the goal of Utah’s law was to help welfare applicants get off any kind of addictive substances and return to work.

Utah is one of at least eight states that have passed legislation requiring testing or screening for public assistance applicants. Similar laws have been proposed in at least 29 states this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Critics, however, have said the laws unfairly stigmatize poor people and waste taxpayer money. Legal challenges have called the testing a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against an unreasonable search and seizure.

In Florida, 108 people tested positive for drugs among the more than 4,000 tested. Florida’s law was temporarily halted by a federal judge, and a federal appeals court upheld the ban in February. Gov. Rick Scott has said he’s planning to appeal the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Michigan instituted a random drug-testing policy on welfare recipients that was stopped by a judge after five weeks. A four-year court battle followed before a federal appeals court ruled the policy unconstitutional.

Utah’s law has not faced a legal challenge. It does not randomly target applicants or require all applicants to undergo a drug test.

Instead, applicants must complete a written questionnaire designed to screen for substance abuse. Drugs tests are then performed on those rated as having a high probability of using drugs.

Utah’s law doesn’t disqualify people who test positive from receiving benefits. Instead, it requires them to enter substance abuse treatment.

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Follow Michelle Price at http://www.twitter.com/michellelprice



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