ATLANTA — A bill requiring welfare applicants to take drug tests at their own expense was filed Tuesday for early introduction to the next session of the General Assembly.
Critics say cost will be as big a barrier as the test itself.
One of the authors, freshman Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, said a similar law in Florida reduced welfare applications by 48 percent. That state saved $2 million in five months, even after reimbursing the roughly one-in-four applicants who passed the test, he said.
Under Spencer’s measure, House Bill 668, Georgia taxpayers would reimburse the roughly $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 would result in a three-month ban, and three or more failure would make 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, the author of the Senate version of the bill which also includes applicants for Medicaid, said the aim is to turn around the lives of drug users.
Last month, a federal judge blocked Florida from using its law until a full trial is held. At issue is whether the law 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.
Spencer said he was aware of that injunction and has worked with the author of the Florida law to avoid a challenge in Georgia. For example, the names of anyone tested positive for drug use in Georgia could not be shared with law enforcement officials, he said.