Legislation requiring drug testing of welfare recipients has been revised to apply only to applicants for benefits who are deemed suspect users after filling out a “pre-screening” questionnaire.
Full implementation of the proposed new law would also be delayed until July 1, 2014, giving the Department of Human Services (DHS) time to develop plans for the pre-screening and develop rules fleshing out details of the process.
The amended version of SB2580 was approved 8-3 Thursday by the Senate Finance Committee, which clears it for a Senate floor vote next week as the Legislature pushes toward adjournment of its 2012 session.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, sponsor of the bill, said he is confident that the revisions assure passage by easing concerns about the proposal being unconstitutional.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Bill Haslam told the committee Thursday that the administration had concerns about the earlier versions, but does not object to passage with the changes. Campfield said plans call for the revisions to also be adopted in the House, where Rep. Julia Hurley, R-Lenoir City, is sponsor.
Under the revised version, as explained by Campfield and DHS attorney Bill Russell:
-A “pre-screening” test would be required for all new applicants for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. The Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI) was cited as an example by Campfield. Russell said about 4,000 persons per month apply for TANF benefits.
-An applicant whose score on the test indicates a reasonable suspicion that he or she is using drugs would then be required to take a drug screen test. If the test is positive, the applicant could still be approved for benefits by agreeing to a drug treatment program. If treatment is refused, the applicant would be ineligible for benefits for six months, but could re-apply after that period.
-If a person with dependent children is denied benefits under the program, a third party – a relative, for example – could be designated to collect benefits for supporting the children.
“This is pretty much what I wanted to do all along,” said Campfield “We’ll be helping those people to get away from drugs.”
Earlier proposals called for broad testing of all TANIF recipients, which is similar to a Florida law that has been successfully challenged in court. A Tennessee attorney general’s opinion earlier this year declared the original version of Campfield’s bill – and other pending state proposals that have not been pushed – would be “constitutionally suspect.”
In general, courts have declared invalid mandatory drug testing plans unless they are “suspicion based,” or applying only to those persons reasonably suspected of drug abuse rather than all recipients. Russell said the new version appears to meet that standard and appears constitutionally valid.