Fourth Amendment Conflict: Drug testing welfare recipients

November 15, 2012

Texas' top two leaders proposed a bill that would require drug tests for some welfare recipients and people who receive unemployment assistance before any benefits are doled out. While Gov. Rick Perry said Texas will have an efficient welfare system, the question remains whether it will be a constitutional one.

(The issue has been ongoing. The Advocate ran an article last spring about it.)

Perry and Dewhurst tout the move as a way to cut businesses' costs on unemployment benefits while ensuring welfare recipients spend money on living expenses rather than illegal drugs. If fewer people receive these benefits, the state could save money by paying out less.

“Texas taxpayers will not subsidize or tolerate illegal drug abuse,” Perry said in a news release. “Every dollar that goes to someone who uses it inappropriately is a dollar that can’t go to a Texan who needs it for housing, child care or medicine.”

Perry said it is an incentive to get off drugs. Could it also mean more Texans end up penniless and in the criminal system, which would cost taxpayers more?

Linda Campbell, a columnist for Fort Worth Star-Telegram, said she understands the sentiment of wanting to make good investments in people, but said there are difficult questions that need to be addressed first.

"It would be naive to deny that some of Texas' neediest children live in dysfunctional households with substance-abusing adults," Campbell wrote. "And, sure, some Texans can't keep jobs because of their addictions."

But she wrote that requiring Texans to pass mandatory drug testing before receiving public assistance "runs into an inconvenient reality called the Fourth Amendment, which bars the government from conducting unreasonable searches."