By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Low-income adults seeking public assistance in Georgia will have to pass a drug test before receiving benefits under a measure signed by Governor Nathan Deal on Monday, making it the latest state to push through the controversial testing requirement.
Supporters of the Social Responsibility and Accountability Act said it is designed to ensure that welfare payments, called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, are not "diverted to illicit drug use."
Under the law set to take effect on July 1, applicants who fail a drug test will become ineligible to receive benefits for a certain time period, based on the number of past test failures.
The measure will not affect benefits for children. If a parent fails a drug test, children can still receive payments through another person designated by the state.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia opposed the drug-testing requirement and believes it is unconstitutional, Executive Director Debbie Seagraves said on Tuesday. There is no evidence that welfare recipients are any more likely than other groups to use illegal drugs, she said.
"You're taking a group of people and basically profiling them," Seagraves said.
She would not say whether the ACLU plans to sue, but previously she has predicted a lengthy court fight if the measure became law.
ON THE BOOKS IN OTHER STATES
Two states, Michigan and Florida, have adopted similar legislation, and a drug-testing bill is pending in the Oklahoma Senate, 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.
Utah's governor last month signed a bill that requires those applying for cash assistance to take a drug test if they are suspected of using drugs. It also allows the state to stop benefits for an applicant who refuses to take the test.
Georgia's Deal, a Republican, said the legislation "guarantees that the benefits are used for their intended purposes — to care for children and assist with job preparation."
Republican State Senator John Albers, one of the bill's sponsors, told Reuters earlier this year that he was confident the Georgia legislation would withstand any legal challenges. Welfare reform legislation passed by Congress in 1996 specifically allows states to require drug testing, he said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jackie Frank)