But that doesn’t mean the Georgia’s new law, which requires some people applying for welfare benefits to pass a drug test beginning July 1, will pass constitutional muster.
Indeed, one concern is that this law could become a slippery slope toward other forms of drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits. For example, should HOPE scholarship recipients be tested for drug use? If students have money for weed, the theory goes, then perhaps limited HOPE dollars should go to those who don’t smoke it.
Nationally, nearly half the states either have considered or are considering laws that would make welfare recipients pass a drug test to receive benefits.
Driving the measure is a perception that people who are on public assistance are misusing public dollars. There’s also a belief that testing saves money.
But that’s not always the case.
In Idaho, lawmakers ditched the idea when state budget analysts concluded a drug-testing program would cost more money than it would save. Meanwhile, recent federal statistics indicate that welfare recipients are no more likely to abuse drugs than the general population — about 8 percent of the total. In fact, that was the experience in Michigan, which had a drug testing program before the courts tossed it.
Georgia’s law is modeled after Florida’s, which was blocked late last year in federal court by an appointee of President George W. Bush. While lawmakers said the Georgia law was written to survive a court challenge, so was Obamacare.
On the positive side, Georgia’s law steers individuals who test positive for drugs to substance-abuse treatment providers. Unfortunately, there’s no money for treatment. Thus one way to improve Georgia’s law — assuming it survives a court challenge — is to steer any savings toward programs. Get people the help they need, as opposed to kicking them to the curb.
Welfare dollars should go to women and children, not drug pushers. But the constitutional question — whether specific groups of Americans can be singled out for involuntary drug testing without cause — goes to America’s core values and the ban against unreasonable searches and seizures.
When you give government an inch today, it might claim a mile tomorrow.