State Government and Welfare and Government & Economic Development and Government

Indiana Republicans push drug tests for welfare money

November 30, 2011

Two Indiana Republicans want welfare recipients to pass drug tests before they can receive benefits.

Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, and Rep. Heath VanNatter, R-Kokomo, said they have asked statehouse staff to draft bills that they plan to submit when lawmakers return for their 2012 session on Jan. 4.

"I can tell you there are an awful lot of people out there that want this thing done," Leising said Wednesday.

Other states including Missouri and Florida have pushed for the testing, but measures have run up against Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. At least one federal judge has placed a testing law on hold.

In Indiana, Leising wrote a bill earlier this year cutting off job-training programs for anyone testing positive for drugs. Indiana was the first state in the nation to mandate those seeking job help to be tested. When working on the measure during the 2011 session, Leising fought off efforts to amend the bill to require testing for welfare recipients after state lawyers told her such a move would likely land the measure in court.

But the issue has resurfaced, and supporters of such a measure say it's a matter of fairness: Indiana residents scrapping for a paycheck shouldn't have their tax dollars go to welfare recipients who abuse drugs.

"I think people are just fed up with the government not spending their tax money wisely," VanNatter said. "If (welfare recipients) have money to spend on drugs maybe they shouldn't be on welfare."

VanNatter and Leising haven't worked out the specifics yet, but say they broadly want recipients of state aid under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to undergo drug tests in order to qualify for aid.

Ken Falk, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said the measure sounds like a clear violation of the Constitution's protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

"The question is 'Is there a special need to drug test welfare recipients?'" Falk said.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Mitch Daniels said the governor is watching the bill. It's not clear whether he would support it.

A federal judge ordered last month that Florida's testing law be put on hold while a challenge from the ACLU and a single father works its way through the courts. A federal appeals court blocked Michigan's attempt to mandate drug testing in 2003.

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