A bill that would have required welfare recipients to undergo drug testing died Friday in the North Dakota House. It was defeated soundly on a 72-19 vote.
The North Dakota bill, House Bill 1385, originally would have required all welfare applicants to undergo mandatory, suspicionless drug testing at their own expense as part of the application process. Those who failed the drug test would have lost benefits for one year, or six months if they completed drug treatment and passed a drug test. The bill was amended in committee to require drug tests of applicants only upon "reasonable suspicion."
Mandatory suspicionless drug test bills have become law in Florida and Georgia, but have been blocked or put on hold by legal challenges. Federal courts have repeatedly held that a drug test constitutes a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and a search requires either a warrant or probable cause. Some states have sought to address that legal problem by calling for an initial assessment to see if there was evidence that would support a drug test, as North Dakota legislators did in committee.
But that was not enough to keep the bill alive. It was opposed by state social services officials, who said it was probably unconstitutional and unfairly targeted the poor. Legislators also balked at the potential costs, which a legislative fiscal analysis put at $595,000 in program costs for the first two years, as well as $125,000 in anticipated legal costs.
The state only has 1,800 participants in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, and 45% of those are children.