Mt. Vernon Register-News

Community News Network

April 11, 2013

Court challenge likely for welfare drug-testing bill

INDIANAPOLIS — Both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly have passed a bill that ties drug testing to welfare benefits, but if signed into law, the next debate may be on the question: Is it constitutional?

The bill’s sponsors say they’ve carefully crafted the language to avoid the kind of legal challenges that have stalled similar drug-testing programs in other states.

But opponents say there’s no getting around the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and predict it’s headed for court.

“I think it’s unconstitutional and going to be challenged,” said Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union chapter in Indiana. “And we’d certainly be willing to make that challenge.”

In February, a federal appeals court ruled against Florida’s testing of welfare applicants for drug use in a case brought by the ACLU.

The ruling didn’t strike down Florida’s drug-testing requirement directly. But the appeals court held that the state failed to show a direct threat to public safety that would justify drug testing without suspicion of wrongdoing.

Florida’s governor has vowed to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Florida drug-testing program has been on a court-ordered hold since 2011, as the legal fight plays out. At least four other states have adopted laws that allow drug testing of welfare applicants suspected of drug use.

Here in Indiana, the backers of House Bill 1483 hope to avoid a scenario similar to Florida.  

They argue that the Indiana legislation is different than the Florida law. In Florida, anyone who applies for the federal cash-assistance welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, is eligible to be drug-tested.

The Indiana legislation would require all TANF applicants in Indiana to take a 65-question written test used nationally to screen people for potential drug abuse. Only test-takers who show a high propensity to abuse drugs would be part of a pool randomly required to take a urine drug test. Those who fail would be steered into a drug treatment program.  

“We’re not making everyone subject to drug testing, only those who show a high propensity for substance abuse disorder,” said Republican Sen. Randy Head, a Logansport lawyer who sponsored the bill in the Senate.  

But Falk said the 65-question written test in the Indiana bill is not enough to overcome the hurdles that courts have imposed on mandatory drug testing.

“Failing a (written) screening test isn’t proof of anything,” Falk said. “It’s an invasive search without probable cause.”

Both Head and the bill’s author, Republican Rep. Jud McMillin, a Brookville lawyer, defended the bill during debates on the legislation, assuring lawmakers it would stand up to a constitutional challenge.

But the Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, an Anderson lawyer, disgreed. “This is a constitutional lawyer’s dream,” Lanane said.

McMillin and Head have argued that the intent of the bill isn’t punitive, since the TANF program is supposed to be only for people who are actively looking for work or going to school to get training to get a job.

“What we’re trying to do is give somebody a hand up instead of a handout,” McMillin said.

A TANF recipient who tests positive for drugs would be allowed to keep their benefits but would have to enter a treatment program. The treatment program could be a free program, like Narcotics Anonymous, Head said.

“There are plenty of NA programs in church basements across the state,” Head said.

The Indiana bill also requires those TANF recipients who’ve been steered into a drug treatment program to stay clean or risk losing their benefits.

It requires them to submit to follow-up urine drug tests and cuts off their benefits if they fail repeated drug tests. It also includes a provision that allows them to get their TANF benefits back in the future, once they start to test clean.

In arguing for the bill, Head noted a federal law, the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, that authorized, but didn’t require states to impose mandatory drug testing as a prerequisite to receiving federal welfare assistance administered by the states.

But few states have acted to do so until recently. Michigan was the first to do so, but the state’s mandatory drug testing program was struck down as unconstitutional in 2003 in a challenge brought by the ACLU. A federal appeals court ruled the mandatory drug tests violated welfare recipients’ Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches.

Since Florida adopted its drug-testing program in 2011, seven more states have passed similar laws tying drug screening to eligibility for public assistance.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • 072214 Diamond Llama 1.jpg Llama on the loose corralled in Missouri town

    A llama on the lam cruised Main Street Tuesday before it mistook a resident’s fenced backyard for a place to grab a meal and freshen up.

    July 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 2.00.42 PM.png VIDEO: Train collides with semi truck carrying lighter fluid

    A truck driver from Washington is fortunate to be alive after driving his semi onto a set of tracks near Somerset, Ky., and being struck by a locomotive, which ignited his load of charcoal lighter fluid.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • mama.jpg What we get wrong about millennials living at home

    If the media is to be believed, America is facing a major crisis. "Kids," some age 25, 26, or even 30 years old, are living out of their childhood bedrooms and basements at alarmingly high numbers. The hand-wringing overlooks one problem: It's all overblown.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Malaysians wonder 'Why us?' after second loss of airline jet

    It was all too familiar. Grieving families rushing to airport. The flashing television graphics of a plane's last radar appearance. The uncomfortable officials before a heavy thicket of microphones.
    For many Malaysians, the disappearance of Flight 370 in March has been a long trauma from which the nation has not yet recovered.

    July 18, 2014

  • The terrible history of passenger planes getting shot out of the sky

    What is more clear is that, if initial reports are true, this would be the deadliest incident of a civilian passenger plane being shot down in modern memory. In some instances, the causes of the disaster are still shrouded in mystery. Here are some of the worst events.

    July 17, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 2.12.33 PM.png Gunshots narrowly miss TV reporter

    A reporter for a West Virginia television station narrowly escaped injury or worse Monday while covering a fatal weekend shooting in Beckley.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • 25 hidden secrets in "Weird Al's" "Word Crimes" video

    Yankovic's 14th album was released this week, and it warms my heart containers that he's kept up his geeky brand of humor for so long. While he has written so many incredible songs, none have spoken to my love of proper grammar.
    Until "Word Crimes."

    July 16, 2014

  • State lawmakers tweak gun regulations

    Obtaining a concealed carry weapons license within the Commonwealth of Kentucky is not a simple task.

    July 16, 2014

  • When your doctor commits suicide, things get complicated

    When they call for appointments, patients are told they can't see their doctor. Ever. The standard line: "We are sorry, but your doctor died suddenly."

    July 15, 2014

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks