Tue., March 27, 2012 7:11pm (EDT)

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Moves Forward
By Jeanne Bonner
Updated: 2 years ago

ATLANTA  —  
Georgia lawmakers have passed a bill that would require welfare recipients to take a drug test before receiving benefits. GOP supporters of the measure say it would save taxpayers money but opponents say it’s unconstitutional and uncharitable.
Georgia lawmakers have passed a bill that would require welfare recipients to take a drug test before receiving benefits. GOP supporters of the measure say it would save taxpayers money but opponents say it’s unconstitutional and uncharitable.
Georgia lawmakers have passed a bill that would require welfare recipients to take a drug test before receiving benefits. GOP supporters of the measure say it would save taxpayers money but opponents say it’s unconstitutional and uncharitable.

The bill would target what supporters call abuse of a government benefit, namely the federal welfare program.

It’s similar to a Florida law a federal judge has blocked because it violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unlawful search.

Sen. Jason Carter, an Atlanta Democrat, says the state must have a reason to single out one group.

“If you search someone, require a drug test, intrude into their private lives for no reason, with no reason to believe they have been using illegal drugs, not only is it wrong, it’s unconstitutional, and we will be litigating it and litigating it and litigating it,” Carter said during Senate floor debate.

The General Assembly’s own legislative counsel also says the bill may not be constitutional.

Atlanta attorney Shelley Sennerfitt says there’s no proof welfare recipients are likelier to take illegal drugs, and the courts have struck down other laws where there was no evidence.

"One of the things the courts have said is, if you’re going to try and require folks to submit to suspicion-less drug testing, you’ve got to have some really good reason to do it," she said in an interview. "And you can’t just say, ‘Oh we’ve got reasons.’ There actually has to be evidence.”

But supporters say it’s lawful, citing the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. and they say it would save taxpayers money.

Sen. John Albers, a Roswell Republican, is the bill’s sponsor. He rejects the notion that the bill would unfairly target lower-income Georgians.

“Fair is not the way you build a great nation," he said in an interview after the vote. "What you do is, you build it on the premise of laws and people towing their own and helping people only, only when they cannot help themselves.”

Albers also says the bill is compassionate because it would help welfare recipients who are addicted to drugs by forcing them to face their dependency.

He amended it to exempt nursing home and assisted living center residents, among others, from testing. If the House agrees to the change, the bill heads to Governor Deal for his signature.