A bill recently passed the General Assembly in Georgia that would allow state workers to test food stamp recipients for drugs. House Bill 772 passed just before the close of Georgia’s 2014 legislative session and now must be signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal, Republican, according to MSNBC.
Passage of the bill came as a surprise to many, because legislators had been warned that such testing was prohibited under federal law. On March 7, Robert Caskey of the Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program in Atlanta sent an email to Georgia officials citing a law that said “no state agency shall impose any other standards of eligibility” beyond provisions already in the federal Food and Nutrition Act.
According to The Augusta Chronicle, the email stated, “The addition of a drug testing provision of any type is prohibited in the SNAP program.”
The warning didn’t deter lawmakers. Rep. Greg Morris, Republican, who sponsored the bill, called it “common sense” legislation.
“Hardworking Georgians expect their tax dollars to be used responsibly and efficiently,” he said in an earlier statement. “Under no circumstance should the government fund someone’s drug habit.”
The bill stipulates that drug screening would not be universal. Caseworkers must have “reasonable suspicion” before ordering the test. Such language does little to assuage the fears of critics of the proposed law.
“We still believe that the factors giving rise to individual suspicion are unconstitutionally broad and would likely be struck down in the courts,” said Chad Brock of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.
A similar law was passed in Florida in 2010 and never saved that state any money. Florida spent over $45,000 testing food stamp recipients. The law was declared unconstitutional in 2011. Before that happened, the state tested 4,000 individuals and only found 108 recipients using drugs, according to a column on Slate.com.
To save Georgia money, Morris’ bill requires that Medicaid recipients pay $17 out of pocket to take the test.
“That would be a small pass for entry into an entitlement program,” Morris said.
Deal has until May to sign the legislation. His office has not indicated his intentions.