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Bill requiring drug tests for welfare signed | News

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Bill requiring drug tests for welfare signed
Bill requiring drug tests for welfare signed

ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal has signed legislation that would require some people applying for welfare in Georgia to pass a drug test before they could get benefits.

The bill passed the Legislature along partisan lines, with Democrats balking at the proposal as an unfair burden on the poor.

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Under the bill, anyone who tests positive for drug use could not apply for welfare for one month and until they test clean. A third violation could prevent someone from applying for benefits for a year. They would also have to pass another drug test before reapplying.

The results from the tests couldn't be used to criminally prosecute people.

Courts have struck down similar laws in other states, although supporters in Georgia expressed confidence that the law here could withstand a legal challenge.



Debbie Seagraves
ACLU Georgia

"It will be very, very expensive. Because every study that's been done shows that people who are receiving assistance do not use drugs at a higher rate than people who are working. So most people will have to be reimbursed," because, she said, the overwhelming majority of applicants -- in the tens of thousands per year -- will test negative and, under the new law, the cost of the test, at least $17, will be paid back to them when they test negative. "So the state is going to bear the cost."

"It's a violation of the Constitution."

A court in Michigan has ruled a similar law unconstitutional, she said, and in Florida a judge issued a temporary injunction putting a similar law in Florida on hold. The Florida case will be heard by the federal appeals court in Atlanta.

"And that judge" in Florida "said there was no reason to believe that it was going to curtail drug use because there was no reason to believe that people were using drugs at a higher rate when they were getting assistance, and that is was unconstitutional, and that it [the challenge] was likely to win in court."

"It's requiring suspicion-less searches. It's one thing to require a drug test of someone who is suspected of using drugs. [But] these are people who are being blanket-tested, or who will be blanket-tested, with no suspicion, in order to receive a public benefit. A benefit that we have all paid for as taxpayers."

Yes, she said, taxpayer money should not be used by welfare recipients who buy drugs, but taxpayer money should also not be used to conduct illegal, unconstitutional searches of innocent people.

"They are having a requirement put upon them to give up their bodily fluids, to be tested for drugs, when there is no reason to believe that they are drug users. So suspicion-less searches, and this is a search, suspicion-less drug testing is not a constitutional thing for the state to be doing" and regardless of how popular the plan is, she said, the Constitution forbids it.

"There's no evidence that there is a high rate of drug use among TANF recipients. Any evidence that's out there would tell you just the opposite."

"What if our government -- state, federal or local -- just decided that we have a high rate of drug use across the board, and there is something wrong with that and so everybody is going to get tested? What if they said that, well, we need to have DNA samples of every citizen in this state in a database, and that way, when a crime's committed, we can just pull it up and go get the right person? Are you okay with that? Suspicion-less searches, taking away the privacy of a human being, is prevented, it's restricted in our Constitution. It's prohibited in our Constitution. And, to say that someone, at the worst time in their life, they're having to get TANF, they're having to get assistance, during the worst recession that any of us remember, that we are now going to impose this punitive testing, it serves no purpose, it saves no money, it's unconstitutional, and it's just misdirected and mean."



Sen. John Albers
(R) Roswell

The new law is needed "To make sure that we get people clean.  And we never want to spend tax dollars on enabling people's illegal activity.  Implement a little tough love, because ultimately the best way to serve people is to give them a hand up, not simply a hand out."

The new law, Albers said, is not "red meat for the right wing" to pander to voters, as some critics have called the law.

"If anything, this is about as American as it becomes, which is doing the hard work, being accountable.  And we should never give one group an advantage over another in anything we do. I'm a volunteer firefighter. I have to take a drug test. In the private marketplace, for my job, I have to take a drug test. To have someone who receives a free government benefit to do the same is simply leveling the playing field. So I don't believe that argument holds weight, we have worked very closely with legislators in Florida and our Attorney General's office.... This is nothing about illegal search and seizure."

"The average TANF or welfare recipient in the state of New Jersey spent 5.8 years in the system. However, if they were using illegal drugs, they spent 12 years, more than two times. So the state has a reason and a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that tax dollars are never going to be used for illegal purposes , and that we're using the best use of taxpayer dollars for programs."

Sen. Albers said statistics from Florida indicating that about five percent of welfare applicants test positive for drugs are inaccurate; he said the rate is closer to 13 percent. "If 13 percent of the people no longer get a government subsidy to fund their use of meth or cocaine or heroine or something terrible, then absolutely we're doing the right thing. We would never take our tax dollars and go hand it to somebody to go break the law. It's just wrong."

"This is good government. And true compassion is doing what's best for people, not easiest. Tough love works, and it's time we (had) a little tough love in the state of Georgia."