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The Wisconsin State Assembly
MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Public aid recipients in Wisconsin would be limited in how much junk food they could buy and forced to undergo screenings for illegal drug use under bills passed Wednesday by the state Assembly.

The Republican-sponsored measures face an uncertain future, however. They still must pass the Senate, which last session refused to take up the junk food bill. Also, it would take hard-to-get federal waivers to enact the junk food restriction and drug tests for food stamp recipients.

There are also concerns about whether the state would allocate enough money to pay for the drug tests or the grocery store software needed to track food purchases.

Still, Republican supporters pushed forward Wednesday, saying they wanted to make sure that beneficiaries of public programs are eating healthy food and not doing drugs, making them more employable.

"With help from the government comes responsibility, " said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in a news conference prior to debate.

Under the junk food bill, food stamp recipients would have to use at least two-thirds of their monthly benefits to purchase nutritional foods such as beef, chicken, pork, potatoes, dairy products, fresh produce and food available under the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. Users would be barred from buying crab, lobster, shrimp and other shellfish.

Democrats and other opponents - including a coalition of businesses that worry the limitations would be bad for Wisconsin food products - have argued that the measure was an overreach.

Grocery stores have also balked at the proposal because new software would have to be installed to track spending by food stamp users, which is estimated to cost as much as $55 million.

Rep. Andy Jorgenson, D-Milton, said Republicans were pursuing the issue to try to distract from other unpopular proposals in Gov. Scott Walker's state budget.

"You've decided that being the food police might make you more popular, " Jorgenson said.

The federal government funds food stamp benefits. The limitations imposed under the bill would require a federal waiver, something no other state has received for such a proposal.

The bill passed on a 60-35 vote, with all Democrats voting against and all Republicans in favor except for Reps. Adam Neylon, of Pewaukee, and Jessie Rodriguez, of Franklin.

The Assembly also passed a pair of bills that would require drug tests for applicants for state job training programs such as Wisconsin Works and certain applicants for unemployment benefits. Since state law requires able-bodied people who don't have dependent children to get job training to receive food stamps, the drug test requirement would also apply to some food stamp recipients.

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