In 2010, the state of Florida successfully passed legislation requiring welfare recipients to submit to a drug test in order to continue receiving governmental assistance.  Since then, the state has decreased the number of applicants by 48 percent and saved just under two million dollars.  It is only a matter of time before more states catch onto this age of new fiscal restraints.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has modeled this Florida law in his state.  In a press release from his office on Monday, Governor Deal praised Florida for their success and defended the law in his state saying, “This program is intended as a safety net, and this requirement guarantees that the benefits are used for their intended purposes – to care for children and assist with job preparation.”

The legislation known as “HB 861” stipulates that all applicants who fail a drug test won’t be able to receive state benefits for a specified amount of time.  The amount of time is determinate on how many previous suspensions the applicant has received due to failed drug tests.  It also stipulates that TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) applicants would also have to pay for their own drug test, which is estimated to run around $17.

The children of these individuals are not left out in the cold, however.  Parents can still receive benefits for their children if they have failed a drug test. The law provides that a parent must designate a surrogate payee that will receive the money and distribute it for the needs of a child.

This is not the final word on HB 861 though. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, several groups, including the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) located in Atlanta and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have both expressed dissatisfaction with the law. The Southern Center for Human Rights was gearing up to challenge HB 861 in court as Governor Deal was signing it into law.  The SCHR said that they will not file suit, however, until Georgia begins to test TANF recipients.

The ACLU has also voiced discontent with the law citing Fourth Amendment concerns of unreasonable searches.  Supporters of the law say that it will save the state vital revenue and lead to more personal responsibility for those receiving governmental assistance.

Governor Deal signed the bill into law despite the legal challenges to Florida’s similar legislation. Gerry Weber, an attorney for SCHR, said, “We are disappointed the governor signed the bill, given an almost identical law in Florida has been declared unconstitutional.”  The bill made final passage on March 29th, the last day of the legislative year.  Those supporting the law in the Georgia legislator say that they are confident that the law will stand in court.

This law and the emergence of several others just like it are indicative of a move toward more personal responsibility for those on governmental assistance and the state tightening the belt during hard financial times.  It is not the state’s responsibility to fund people’s drug habits. And as for the risk to Fourth Amendment rights, it seems like a stretch at best.

People should expect to lose a degree of their personal privacy when they are asking to be taken care of on the public dime.  The Fourth Amendment argument doesn’t hold much water when you also consider that most work places require one to submit to drug tests.  If people make themselves subjects to the government, then they can and should be subject to different rules.

This is a case of certain states saying enough is enough.  Georgia lawmakers estimate that 800 of the 19,000 TANF recipients will fail their drug tests.  That is roughly four percent of those receiving such benefits.  This should be enough to outrage those whose taxes go to paying the TANF benefits and should cause all states to further examine how this “assistance” is disbursed.

Mark Mayberry | University of Tennessee at Chattanooga | Chattanooga, Tennessee | @MarkMayberry86