Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill on Tuesday that requires drug testing for some welfare applicants – and makes them foot the bill as well.
According to local NBC affiliate WXIA, the new law will place the fate of a welfare/food stamp applicant in the hands of state employees, who will determine whether or not a drug test is necessary. Generally, this decision would be made by taking into account an individual’s police record, demeanor, reasons for termination from employment, and any missed appointments.
On Monday, the day before Deal signed the legislation into law, the governor described the challenges facing the proposal that ultimately won his signature.
"You're trying to balance two competing forces,” he told WXIA. “First is the right of the individual if they qualify to be given assistance in terms of food stamps. On the other hand, the right of the taxpayer not to be putting money in the hands of those abusing drugs. So it's a delicate balance of social issues.”
The bill has been dubbed “the toughest in the nation when it comes to public assistance” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but supporters claim that it ensures anyone receiving taxpayer money is doing so fairly.
“We passed a bill that simply insists on some level of personal responsibility of people who receive public funds for their support and livelihood,” said state Speaker of the House David Ralston (R).
Opponents, however, argue that since the state increasingly uses the internet and the phone to manage applications, officials don’t have the kind of in-person interaction necessary to validate claims of reasonable suspicion that require a drug test.
Additionally, the bill forces applicants to pay for their drug exam – regardless of whether or not they test positive for anything – and places what opponents see as yet another obstacle in the way of the state’s poorest residents.
"It's a badly flawed bill," Debbie Seagraves of Georgia’s American Civil Liberties Union said to Reuters. "It will be challenged.”
"It's one thing for a judge, or district attorney, or police officer to judge what's reasonable suspicion,” added Sen. Vincent Ford (D) to WXIA. “But giving it to an overworked bureaucrat? I think it is bottom line, unfair.”
As noted by Reuters, other states have tried to implement like-minded bills only to see them fall by the wayside. Last year, a federal judge struck down a similar bill, ruling it violated applicants’ constitutional rights against unreasonable search. Meanwhile, the Republican governor of North Carolina vetoed a drug-testing bill in 2013, arguing it had generated no tangible benefits in other states.