Capital News Service
A Senate committee has killed a bill that would have made felons with drug-related convictions eligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
On a tie vote along party lines, the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee defeated Senate Bill 1238, which had been sponsored by Sen. Patsy Ticer, D-Alexandria.
“I think it’s a very fair bill,” Ticer said before Friday’s vote. “Currently murderers can receive TANF again after they come out of incarceration,” but drug offenders cannot.
“That does not seem equitable to me,” Ticer said.
Virginia opted in to a federal ban on federally funded cash assistance to people convicted of drug-related felonies. Until last year, such felons also were ineligible for food stamps.
Ticer has tried to overturn the ban for the past five legislative sessions, according to the senator’s own estimate.
“It really harms the children,” Ticer said. “They’re the ones who really need the services and need the ability to move on.”
On Friday, the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee took up Ticer’s latest attempt to reverse the ban – Senate Bill 1238.
The panel deadlocked 7-7 on a motion to approve the bill. As a result, the motion failed. All seven Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the motion; all seven Republicans voted against it.
As someone who works with low income individuals, many of whom have drug offenses and have been incarcerated for dealing and using, I can honestly say that this policy does nothing but exacerbate the conditions of men and women trying to reform themselves. We must ask ourselves what causes a person to become addicted to drugs, what causes a person to sell drugs. Usually its because all legal opitions have been exhausted, or the the person does not have the education or wherewithall to create oportunities for themselves. When returning to society after incarceration an individual has an even more difficult time finding work, and without societal assistance and social programs the person in inevitably forced back into an illegal trade. This university several years ago recommended summer reading by author Stephen levitt, the book Freakonomics, which had an excellent article showing how most individuals in the drug trade could be likened to MCDonalds employees, based on the pay structure involved in most criminal enterpises. Our society should be less concerned with punishing individuals for being caught in its structural flaws, and more concerned with addressing the root problem of the drug trade. Namely this problem is that we have raised our people with avarice, not intelligence, and in a society where people are both greedy and foolish we have a preponderance of malcontented drug pushers.