Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah)
Georgia welfare office in downtown Atlanta
Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur)
ATLANTA - A powerful Georgia lawmaker is backing a series of bills that would require anybody getting welfare in the state, even those drawing unemployment benefits, to pass a drug test to keep them.
State Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) has introduced three bills that would apply to anyone collecting food stamps, Medicaid and unemployment payments. He says people who get welfare money from the state should be subject to the same rules many private workers must meet to keep their jobs.
"If any of my employees fail a drug test, they're going to be fired," said Stephens, a Savannah pharmacy owner and Republican Chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
"It's leveling the playing field," Stephens insisted.
"It's making those recipients be subject to the very same regulations as those getting up going to work for a living," he added.
Some Democrats, like State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), call the idea an injustice that's unfair to the poor and those with substance abuse problems.
"We have a presumption of innocence until proven guilty," Jones said.
"I don't know of any legislation we have that can convict any person without going through the due process in our courts of law," he added.
One of Rep. Stephens' bills would make the drug tests mandatory, another only threatens random testing.
Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) and Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) earlier announced bills that would require drug tests for those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
While Georgia's Republican controlled legislature might be inclined to pass such laws, they would probably face a legal challenge.
A similar Michigan law was thrown out as unconstitutional in 2003.
Reporter Chase Cain of our sister station WTSP-TV in Tampa says a similar Florida law is also tied up in the courts.
A Federal judge in Orlando issued an injunction a few weeks after a lawsuit was filed in October.
Florida Governor Rick Scott is appealing.
But Cain reports the governor's promise of millions in savings hasn't come true yet.
After months of testing, only two percent of the Florida recipients failed a drug test.
Florida had to repay the costs of those $30 to 35 tests to the other 98 percent who passed.