Tennessee Law Requiring Drug Tests for Welfare Recipients Faces Questions
Tennessee’s new law requiring drug testing for welfare recipients, which Governor Bill Haslam said he will sign, faces constitutional questions, according to The Tennessean. It is unclear who will pay for the testing program, the article notes.
The law is similar to those recently passed or being considered in a number of other states. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin this week signed into law a bill that requires welfare applicants to submit to drug testing when they apply for welfare benefits.
Critics of the bills point out that courts have struck down similar programs on the grounds they amount to an unconstitutional search. Laws passed in Florida and Michigan, which allowed drug testing without any prior suspicion, were either ruled unconstitutional or challenged in court. Federal judges said the tests did not provide probable cause for conducting a search, which is required by the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
Ed Rubin, Professor of Law and Political Science at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said he thinks the law does not provide any probable cause. He noted that the Fourth Amendment does allow mandatory drug testing for people seeking certain jobs, such as airplane pilots and machinery operators, which can affect public safety. “That rationale is completely lacking here,” he said, referring to the Tennessee law. “There is no plausible public safety argument from the general Fourth Amendment.”
The Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-TN) opposes the bill. The group sent a letter to Governor Haslam urging him to veto it. Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director, said in a news release that presuming that welfare applicants “are more likely to use drugs than scholarship applicants, farmers, legislators or anyone else receiving government funds is not only an insulting stereotype contradicted by actual research, it’s constitutionally suspect.”