Court: Indefinite drug tests not a condition for welfare

Published 7:55 pm Tuesday, July 17, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota residents with prior drug convictions can’t be required to undergo random drug testing indefinitely as a condition of receiving state welfare benefits, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

The decision comes in the case of Kim Verhein, 62, who lost her Minnesota Supplemental Aid benefits after she refused to take a drug test in 2015. Verhein had been convicted of drug possession in 1999 and had finished her sentence in 2001.

Under state law, a person convicted of certain drug crimes after July 1, 1997, is ineligible for benefits until five years after completing a sentence, with some exceptions. Those who become eligible are subject to random drug testing and lose eligibility for five years after a positive drug test or completion of a sentence for a new felony drug conviction.

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Verhein argued the Department of Human Services commissioner erred in finding that the drug-testing requirement applied to her because it had been more than five years since she finished her sentence. The majority on a three-judge appeals court panel agreed.

“Granting effect to the commissioner’s current interpretation of the statute would require persons receiving MSA or general-assistance benefits to undergo chemical testing indefinitely, even if decades have passed since the completion of a court-ordered sentence,” the majority wrote, later adding, “Those who, like appellant, have long since completed their court-ordered sentences and five-year period of ineligibility are not … required to undergo chemical testing for the receipt of benefits under chapter 256D.”

Judge Matthew Johnson disagreed with the majority. He said his interpretation of the statute makes it apparent that people who are beyond the five-year period of ineligibility are subject to random drug testing.

The Department of Human Services does not plan to appeal.