Tennesseans on welfare will lose their benefits for three years after their second felony drug conviction under legislation that went to the governor for his signature Wednesday.
The state House joined the Senate in adopting the bill despite the objections of some Democrats who said they worried that it might harm children in the families of drug users.
“Tennesseans deserve to know that their lawmakers are being good stewards of their funds,” Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, said. “This bill ensures that we are not subsidizing drug dealers with taxpayer money.”
After a first drug conviction, welfare beneficiaries can remain eligible for payments as long as they enter drug treatment programs.
Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, said, “I certainly don’t condone the use of drugs by anyone, but I do feel like it’s wrong to penalize the children because of drug use by the guardian or a parent. I just don’t want to see the children hurt as a result of the irresponsibility of the parent, and I think there are some unintended consequences.”
But other lawmakers argued giving welfare payments to drug abusers only perpetuates the problems of the family. Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis said, “This is one of those bills that’s kind of tough love. Some of the children are going to be hurt. But more of them are going to be helped. This is what we’ve got to do.”