By Phillip Smith
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has told the state of Georgia that its new law requiring some food stamp recipients to undergo drug testing violates federal policy. The state cannot implement the law, federal officials said Tuesday.
The Georgia law, passed in March and signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal (R), would require food stamp recipients to undergo drug testing if state workers have "a reasonable suspicion" that they are using drugs. The "reasonable suspicion" language, common in a new generation of proposed bills aimed at drug testing public benefits recipients, is designed to get around federal prohibitions against random, suspicionless drug testing, which the federal courts interpret as violating the unwarranted search provisions of the Fourth Amendment.
But while Georgia was able to get around the Fourth Amendment concerns, the new law still runs afoul of USDA policy. That policy "prohibits states from mandating drug testing of (food stamp) applicants and recipients," wrote Robin Bailey, regional administrator of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, in a letter to Georgia officials.
While a number of states have passed "reasonable suspicion" (or the equivalent) public benefits drug testing laws, Georgia is the only one to have passed a law that includes food stamp recipients. If state legislators elsewhere are paying attention, it should also be the last to do so.