Pubdate: Fri, 04 Nov 2011
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2011 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Blake Aued


Two Georgia lawmakers want to drug-test welfare recipients, a
controversial policy that's been struck down as unconstitutional in
other states.

Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, and Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, said
Thursday they plan to introduce legislation to require people to pass
a drug test to qualify for cash welfare.

"Georgia taxpayers have a vested interest in making sure that their
hard-earned tax dollars are not being used to subsidize drug
addiction," Spencer said in a news release. "In these tough economic
times, it is easy to understand that many deserving families need some
temporary help until they can bounce back financially - that's why we
have public assistance programs like TANF. This additional eligibility
requirement will simply ensure that those funds are used for that
intended purpose."

TANF is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal program
that pays cash to the poor for up to five years over their lifetimes.
About 50,000 people receive it in Georgia, according to the U.S.
Census Bureau.

Spencer's bill would not apply to people on food stamps or other
public assistance, he said.

Congress authorized states to drug-test welfare recipients in 1996,
but such laws have run into legal roadblocks before. A similar law in
Michigan was ruled unconstitutional in 2003.

Last week, a federal judge temporarily halted a new Florida law
requiring all welfare recipients to pass drug tests. It may violate
privacy laws and the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable search and
seizures because no evidence that recipients are actually on drugs is
required before testing, and the results can be turned over to police,
U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven ruled.

Spencer said he's addressed Scriven's concerns. The state Department
of Human Services would only use the test results to determine TANF
eligibility and would not release them to law enforcement or another
third party, he said.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed a law in July allowing TANF recipients
to be drug-tested if there is reasonable suspicion they're taking
drugs and cut off those who fail or refuse unless they enter
treatment. It has not been challenged in court.

"Passing this bill is a step in the right direction for our
hardworking citizens and will curb the entitlement mentality that has
become so pervasive in our society," Albers said. "Georgians should no
longer have to foot the heavy burden of paying for those with drug
addictions. Earlier this year, similar welfare-related drug screening
was passed in Florida and Missouri, and has set a new precedent for
social accountability and responsibility."

Under Spencer's bill, applicants who fail a drug test would be
ineligible for TANF for one month. A second failed drug test means
three months of ineligiblity, and a third failed test carries a three-
year ban from benefits.

Children are exempt from the testing requirement, and their benefits
won't be affected if a parent fails, Spencer said.

Applicants would pay for the tests, but the state would reimburse them
if they passed, he said.

Albers' bill would leave it up to DHS to determine how long an
applicant who fails a drug test would be barred from receiving

The legislature will consider the bills when it convenes in January.
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