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Is Tennessee's Mandatory Welfare Drug Testing Bill Doomed?

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

People often say that insanity is repeating the same action with the expectation of a different result.

So is the Tennessee legislature insane for considering a measure that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled unconstitutional?

The Tennessee House of Representatives Finance Committee approved a measure on Monday that would require mandatory drug-testing as a condition to receiving welfare benefits, reports The Associated Press. That's not shocking; Tennessee is a red state, and drug-testing among welfare recipients is a popular conservative policy.

What makes the Tennessee bill questionable is that the Sixth Circuit ruled in 2003 that a similar, suspicionless drug-testing measure in Michigan was unconstitutional.

The legislature, however, has taken measures to distinguish the Tennessee bill from the defunct Michigan plan. Under the Tennessee version, new welfare applicants would undergo a special screening process. If suspicion is raised during screening, then the applicant would be drug-tested, according to the AP.

Tennessee is not alone in pushing for welfare drug testing.

Last week, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed the Social Responsibility and Accountability Act, which will require welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits, reports Reuters. Florida adopted a similar bill last year, and Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed his state's version, Utah H.B. 155, in March. (H.B. 155 requires welfare applicants to take a drug test if they are suspected of using drugs, and permits the state to revoke benefits for applicants who refuse the test.)

Drug-testing legislation is also pending in the Oklahoma Senate, and even Michigan is considering another welfare drug testing bill this year. The new Michigan bill would implement random drug testing.

Do you think the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will strike down mandatory drug testing laws a second time, or will the Tennessee and Michigan concessions to the Fourth Amendment be enough to make these measures constitutional?

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