Tennessee implements welfare drug testing law - WNEM TV 5

Tennessee implements welfare drug testing law

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A controversial Tennessee law took effect this week. Starting July 1st, Tennesseans receiving welfare benefits for the first time must undergo drug testing.

The law was passed in 2012 and lawmakers were given two years to come up with and implement a drug testing plan.

With the plan complete, some lawmakers are calling it one of the greatest pieces of legislation to help drug abusers.

“If you have to have a drug test to get a job why in the world wouldn't people be a little inconvenienced to be able to get those government benefits," said Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey.

According to Ramsey, this will cut down on costs to taxpayers.

But some community leaders disagree.

"That is going to cost a ton that could be going to programs to actually help people," said Good Samaritan Executive Director Sarah Wells.

Wells said children will suffer the most.

"What's going to happen is if they do the drug and alcohol testing--and it is failed they simply cut them off the program which means there will be children who end up being hungry and homeless that...it;s not their fault, " said Wells.

The law requires applicants 18 or older to complete a drug test paid for by the state.

Positive drug tests will result in a referral to a mandatory drug treatment program.

The program must be completed to receive benefits.

"First we would like to use the carrot instead of the stick. And make them become productive citizens. Make sure that if we as taxpayers are supporting them that we're supporting a lifestyle that doesn't involve drugs," said Ramsey.

But the Tennessee ACLU sees things differently. 

Our position is that is violates the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibits the government from searching or seizing a person without warrant and probable cause," said Tennessee ACLU Legal Director Thomas Castelli.

Castelli told News Channel 11 the cost to taxpayers is another major issue Tennesseans should consider.

Castelli said in states that have implemented similar laws, more money is spent on drug testing than is saved on benefits.

Recently a federal court overturned welfare drug testing law in Florida.

Lieutenant Governor Ramsey thinks Tennessee's law will stand.

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