Just before the close of Georgia’s 2014 legislative session last week, the state’s General Assembly granted final approval to a law that would allow state workers to drug test food stamp recipients. The law, H.B. 772, now awaits the signature of Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican.
An earlier version of the bill would have made drug testing mandatory for all food stamp recipients, but members of the House changed the bill’s wording after a federal judge ruled that a similar law in Florida violated the Fourth Amendment. To avoid the same fate, H.B. 772 was rewritten to require “reasonable suspicion” that a food stamp recipient was using illegal drugs before caseworkers could order a drug test.
Georgia public policy players are watching Florida closely now that a federal judge there has struck down the state’s law requiring drug testing for welfare recipients.
A U.S. District judge ruled the Florida law violates the Constitutional provision against unreasonable searches. Georgia has had a similar law on the books since 2012, but it has not yet been implemented.
Chad Brock, an attorney with the ACLU of Georgia, says he wouldn’t be surprised if the State of Florida appeals the ruling to the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “However, the Eleventh Circuit, back in February, in extending the injunction against the drug testing law, really scrutinized the reasoning behind the law,” said Brock. “So I think they’re going to have a tough time if they go back before the Eleventh Circuit.”
For Immediate Release
April 19, 2012
ATLANTA – Georgia has agreed to make it easier for people who receive food stamps, Medicaid and other public assistance to register to vote, in a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.
“This is what government in a democracy should be doing,” said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, “making sure that as many eligible people as possible have the ability to participate. We’ve seen far too many attempts to keep people away from the ballot box this year. With this settlement, at least, Georgia is moving in the right direction.”
The suit charged Georgia was violating the National Voter Registration Act, popularly known as the “motor voter act.” A provision of the law requires states to offer opportunities to register to vote at all offices that offer public assistance.
Under the agreement, Georgia will allow residents to register whenever they apply for, renew or change an address for an assistance program, regardless of whether they come to an office or contact an office over the phone, by mail, or over the Internet.
According to the lawsuit, voter registrations through assistance agencies in Georgia had dropped off drastically since the motor voter law went into effect in 1995. In the first year of the new law, over 100,000 people applied to register through assistance agencies. By 2009, only 4,430 did, even though 70,000 Georgians a month were applying for food stamps alone.
The coalition that brought the suit also included the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, Demos, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Project Vote, the Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and the law firm Dechert LLP.
Download the settlement.