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
  • Affirmative action ruling challenges colleges seeking diversity

    The U.S. Supreme Court's support of Michigan's ban on race-based affirmative action in university admissions may spur colleges to find new ways to achieve diversity without using racial preferences.

    April 23, 2014

  • A 'wearable robot' helps her walk again

    Science is about facts, numbers, laws and formulas. To be really good at it, you need to spend a lot of time in school. But science is also about something more: dreaming big and helping people.

    April 23, 2014

  • Cuba is running out of condoms

    The newest item on Cuba's list of dwindling commodities is condoms, which are now reportedly in short supply. In response, the Cuban government has approved the sale of expired condoms.

    April 23, 2014

  • The waffle taco's biggest enemy isn't McDonald's. It's consumer habits.

    Gesturing to Taco Bell, Thompson said McDonald's had "not seen an impact relative to the most recent competitor that entered the [breakfast] space," and that new competition would only make McDonald's pursue breakfast more aggressively.

    April 23, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 4.42.47 PM.png VIDEO: Leopard attacks crowd in India

    A leopard caused panic in the city of Chandrapur when it sprung from the roof of a house and charged at rescue workers.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • In cuffs... 'Warlock' in West Virginia accused of sexual assault

    Police in West Virginia say a man claiming to be a “warlock” used promises of magical spells to lure children into committing sexual acts with him.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • McCain 1 House Republicans are more active on Twitter than Democrats

    Your representative in the House is almost certainly on Twitter. Your senator definitely is. But how are they using the social network? Are Democrats more active than Republicans, or vice versa? Who has the most followers on the Hill?

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Do White Castle prices tell us anything about the minimum wage?

    The paper looked at how many delicious steamed sliders the minimum wage has been able to purchase over time. The point is that as it notes, in 1981, the $3.35 minimum could buy a whole dozen. Today, at $7.25, it could purchase just 10.

    April 21, 2014

  • VIDEO: Moose charges snowmobile, flees after warning shot

    While snowmobiling in New England, Bob and Janis Powell of Maine were charged by a moose and caught the entire attack on camera.

    April 21, 2014

  • Why do wolves howl?

    Of all the myths that dog the wolf, none is more widely accepted than the idea that wolves howl at the moon. Images of wolves with their heads upturned, singing at the night sky, are as unquestioned as a goldfish's three-second memory or a dog's color-blindness (both also myths).

    April 18, 2014

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks