Bryant Should Consider Constitutionality of Drug Testing Proposal

By: Mike Biggs

In a pre-session interview, Gov. Phil Bryant recently rattled off a list of proposals he intends to see become law during this upcoming legislative session. Included as a high priority is legislation which will call for mandatory drug testing for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, a government program that provides money to low-income families with children up to age 18.

A federal judge earlier today struck down as unconstitutional a Florida law that required welfare applicants to undergo mandatory drug testing, setting the stage for a legal battle that could affect similar efforts nationwide including the proposed Mississippi effort. In her ruling, Judge Scriven said “the court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied,”

Bryant’s logic for the use of such testing is simple: “If I was receiving any federal or state benefits to help raise my family, I’d be glad to take a drug test. Gov. Bryant went on to say “the federal government or the state government has a right, I think, to merely ask people who are receiving benefits through TANF to submit to a drug test so that we can identify if you’re abusing a substance and then how we go about treating you for that.”

Florida passed the measure in 2011, and the case was being closely watched by several other states, including Georgia, which passed similar legislation in 2013 but found it dogged by legal challenges. State data in Florida also showed that the measure produced few results. Only 108 out of 4,086 people tested — 2.6 percent — were found to have been using narcotics. State records showed that the requirement cost more money to carry out than it saved. Utah started a drug-testing program for welfare recipients in 2012. A state agency found that the state spent $30,000 the first year and found 12 people who tested positive for drug use. Bryant said he believes Mississippi would run a program for a similar amount of money.

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