The bill, sponsored by a pair of freshmen lawmakers, would require applicants for welfare to take drug tests at their own expense. Critics, though, say that cost will be as big of a barrier as the test itself.
Under the measure written by Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, House Bill 668, Georgia taxpayers would reimburse the approximatelty $27 cost of a drug test to applicants who pass.
Those who fail would be barred from getting cash benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for one month. Flunking a second time results in a three-month ban, and three or more failure makes an applicant ineligible for a year.
“Georgia taxpayers have a vested interest in making sure their hard-earned tax dollars are not being used to subsidize drug addiction,” Spencer said.
Social workers would direct failing applicants to state-approved, drug-treatment programs. The government would not be on the hook for the cost of that treatment, and Spencer suggested churches and charities pick up the tab.
Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, author of the Senate version which also includes applicants for Medicaid, said the aim is to turn around the lives of drug users.
“Our goal is to get these folks back into society healthy and not addicted to drugs any more so we can make them productive members of society,” he said.
Last month, a federal judge blocked Florida from using its law until a full trial takes place. At issue is whether it violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure by requiring a test of applicants when there is no reason to suspect them of illegal activity.
Opponents say the bill could have unintended consequences.
Larry Pellegrini, executive director of the advocacy group Georgia Rural Urban Summit, said applications will certainly drop off if the bill passes because the expense of the drug test will be prohibitive to candidates for welfare.