A Republican governor who led one of the boldest welfare reforms at the state level in years is pursuing a new crackdown aimed at curbing abuse of benefits while requiring job searches.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage's tough proposals, unveiled earlier this month, would prohibit using welfare benefits to buy alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets and tattoos. LePage also wants to require applicants to apply for three jobs before being eligible, and ban the use of EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards to withdraw cash outside of Maine.
Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback last week signed similar legislation, banning benefits for everything from booze to concerts to lingerie.
In Maine, state Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told FoxNews.com: "The emphasis is the moment someone applies for benefits, to get them urgently and immediately into the process of getting a job."
Welfare reform has been a central plank of the firebrand governor's platform since taking office in 2011. He said at a 2012 state Republican convention: "To all those able-bodied people out there, get off the couch and get yourself a job!" His first budget, passed in 2011, brought Maine in line with the 1996 federal requirement of a 60-month limit on benefits.
The move was part of a much larger restructuring of the welfare system that the LePage administration says emphasized the "temporary" in the "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families" (TANF) program -- a.k.a., "welfare."
In July, Maine started printing photos on EBT cards as part of a move to combat fraud, prompting the Obama administration to threaten to cut Maine's food stamp funding, claiming the policy could have a "chilling effect."
In October, Maine allowed the Obama administration's SNAP work requirement waiver to expire, meaning ABAWDs (able-bodied adults without dependents) have to work 20 hours a week, volunteer, or be part of a work-training program to receive benefits after three months.
The LePage administration claims the reforms contributed to LePage's re-election in November, which also saw Republicans take the state Senate.
In 2015, LePage has shown no signs of slowing down.
In January, as part of a bipartisan agreement, Maine implemented drug-testing among welfare recipients who have been convicted of drug-related felonies.
LePage wants to expand drug-testing to all recipients, which would make Maine -- which hasn't voted Republican in a presidential election since 1988 -- a seemingly unlikely addition to the 12 mostly red states that have passed broader drug-testing legislation for welfare recipients. They include: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A LePage administration spokesperson told FoxNews.com that since implementing the 60-month-cap in 2011, enrollment has dropped to 6,191 cases in March 2015, from 14,804 in 2011.
LePage noted that his new proposals are similar to those rejected last year by Democrats, but thinks this time will be different.
"Our liberal friends said 'no.' They made all sorts of excuses. Well, as you saw in November, the Maine people didn't buy it. They're demanding reform, they expect reform and we're going to give them reform," LePage said recently, according to the Portland Press Herald.
Democratic House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe rejected LePage's narrative, saying Democrats have always sought to work with LePage on welfare reform, often leading the way.
"I think the reality is that he grabs headlines when we're doing the hard work and the bipartisanship of passing good policy," McCabe told FoxNews.com.
Advocates for welfare recipients also question whether the cutbacks are hurting people who genuinely need the help.
"Are we keeping people off who really need assistance? We want to make sure we are finding a way that we are not just keeping people who actually need this assistance off the rolls just to keep the numbers down -- we don't want to penalize them," Democratic strategist Taryn Rosenkranz told FoxNews.com's "Strategy Room." Rosenkranz, founder and CEO of New Blue Interactive, also voiced concern this debate is becoming "about partisanship, instead of trying to find that ... right balance."
McCabe has reintroduced his own proposal from 2014 that would ban the use of benefits for alcohol, tobacco and other purchases, but would reduce some penalties.
"For many people who use certain programs, the way to address infractions is to include an educational component or to explain the benefits and their appropriate use," McCabe said. "Going out and penalizing people in rough situations, people who are trying to escape poverty, because we're trying to get a political headline isn't appropriate."
McCabe also said Democrats and Republicans have been working to create a tiered system that would soften the "welfare cliff" for those returning to work.
Mayhew said the administration welcomes bipartisan interest, and agreed that the tiered system was a source of agreement, but expressed cynicism as to why the Democrats were on board.
"The only reason they are talking about these reforms in a favorable way is because of what happened in November," Mayhew said. "What I have seen from Democrats is a desire to create excuses and exemptions in this legislation that helps people back to work."