Over a dozen states have approved legislation regarding drug testing/screening for public assistance (welfare) applicants or recipients. Some apply to every applicant; some are specific in that it may be determined there is a reason to believe the person is engaging in illegal drug activity or has a substance use disorder. Herein lies the controversy; does this violate constitutional and/or civil rights?
In December of 2013, a District Court a ruled in Florida that this violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches. This ruling was upheld by the 11th U.S. Circuit of appeals in December of last year. Similarly, Tennessee’s bill required the department to develop a plan of suspicion-based testing and report its recommendations to the legislature; the state began a testing program in July of 2014, nearly a year ago. Hopefully, these findings and results will solidify the legalities of what appears to be a slippery constitutional rights slope. Clearly, the legal solutions will probably be a long time in coming
Currently at least 14 states have proposed legislation requiring some form of drug testing/screening for welfare recipients. Substance abuse issues have long been part of public assistance policy discussions. States have proposed drug testing of applicants and recipients of public welfare benefits since federal welfare reform in 1996.