Georgia's new welfare drug testing law was supposed to go into effect July 1, but that didn't happen. According to a spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal (R), the governor still supports the law, but will hold off on implementation until a legal challenge against a similar bill next door in Florida is resolved.
Civil rights and civil liberties groups in Georgia said when the law was passed they would challenge it as soon as it is implemented. But they may not have to if the court, which has jurisdiction in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, strikes down the Florida law.
The federal courts have generally taken a dim view of random, suspicionless drug testing. They consider drug testing a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and have carved out only limited exceptions to the general prohibition against warrantless drug testing. Those exceptions include public safety-sensitive positions (airline pilots, truck drivers), law enforcement personnel engaged in anti-drug work, and high school students involved in athletics or extracurricular activities.
"The governor feels confident that the law in Florida, and therefore in Georgia, will be upheld," spokesman Brian Robinson told the Associated Press. "We plan to move forward on this as soon as we can, but we're willing to wait a little bit longer on the federal courts. There's just no need in us hopping in."
Under the Georgia law, the state Department of Human Services is mandated to create a drug testing program for welfare applicants at their own expense. Those who pass the test would be reimbursed, but those who don't would not only not be reimbursed, they would be ineligible to receive benefits for one month. A second positive test would result in a three-month ban, while a third positive test would result in one year of ineligibility.
Any applicant who fails a drug test must first pass another drug test before benefits would be reinstated. The department would have to provide people who fail the drug test with a list of drug treatment providers, but the state would not pay for drug treatment for them.
Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) told the AP Deal should have voiced his concerns about the law when it was being debated.
"During the debate, we talked about the viability of the law based on the Florida case," said Fort, who opposed the measure and was among the parties vowing legal action against the law. "It would've been appropriate for him at that time to have injected that point, but he's waiting until after he signed it, until it's about to be implemented. He chose not to say anything about it."
Ford said that if the law is upheld, it would set a dangerous precedent.
"The question is, if you're poor and need assistance, do you forfeit your constitutional rights or not?" he said. "I think that's dangerous. If it's poor people today, it could be other people tomorrow."