By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Adults applying for welfare in Georgia would have to pass a drug test before receiving benefits under a bill approved by the state Senate late on Wednesday.
The legislation, called the Social Responsibility and Accountability Act, is designed to ensure that welfare payments, called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, are "not diverted to illicit drug use."
The legislation, which now goes to the Georgia House, would not affect welfare payments to children. Under the bill, if a parent failed a drug test, children could still receive payments through another person designated by the state.
Two states, Michigan and Florida, have adopted similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Michigan Court of Appeals in 2003 ruled that state's law unconstitutional. Florida's law has been temporarily blocked by a federal lawsuit.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia opposes the drug-testing requirement, the organization's executive director, Debbie Seagraves, told Reuters.
"Blanket drugs tests of any kind by the government are unconstitutional," she said.
Seagraves predicted Georgia would face a lengthy court fight over the legislation if it won final passage and is signed into law.
Republican State Senator John Albers, one of the sponsors of the bill, told Reuters he was confident the legislation would withstand any court challenges.
Welfare reform legislation passed by Congress in 1996 specifically allows states to require drug testing, he said. The Georgia bill is aimed at encouraging welfare recipients to stop using illegal drugs, Albers added.
"True compassion is doing what is best for people, not the easiest," he said.
(Editing by Tom Brown and Paul Thomasch)