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Thursday, March 15, 2012 - 12:03pm

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Revised

Georgia lawmakers are revising a bill that opponents say is almost certain to land in federal court. It would require welfare recipients to take a drug test before receiving benefits. Its sponsor says the measure would save taxpayers money but others say it’s unconstitutional.

Sen. John Albers, a Roswell Republican, is the bill’s sponsor. He modeled it on a Florida law, now blocked by a federal judge because it violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unlawful search.

Albers says he’s amended the bill to provide protections for some groups.

But attorney Shelley Senterfitt, who represents the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says there’s no proof welfare recipients are likelier to take illegal drugs.

“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 following a committee meeting. "And you can’t just say, ‘Oh we’ve got reasons.’ There actually has to be evidence.”

For example, she says the courts have OK’d testing of rail employees after a train crash, but only for public safety concerns.

Senterfitt cited a case involving a Georgia law that would have required elected officials to undergo drug tests. The courts rejected the bill, saying there's no proof politicians as a group are likelier to abuse drugs.

Even the General Assembly’s legislative counsel says the bill may not be constitutional.

But Albers, the bill’s sponsor, says the public doesn’t want to subsidize drug addicts through welfare.

He says he’s added privacy provisions following an injunction by a federal judge of the Florida law.

“This is a pure ideology bill, if there ever was one. We’re going to have folks be responsible and accountable for their actions," he told a House committee Thursday.

He added, "I can’t remember how many drug tests I’ve had to take over the years but most recently I took one through my private employer who pays me a wage, and with that wage, I pay Georgia taxes, which help fund social programs.”

The bill passed the Senate, and a House judiciary committee will vote on it on Tuesday.