Legality of drug tests of TANF recipients questions
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Legality of drug tests of TANF recipients questions

Date: April 7, 2009
By: Rebecca Beitsch
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 30, the roll call vote.

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House gave first-round approval to a bill that would require drug tests of recipients of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

The legality of the measure was heavily questioned by House Democrats who argue the measure is violates the 4th Amendment.

"This is a search and seizure without probable cause," said Don Calloway, D-St. Louis County. Calloway, a lawyer, said that the bill operates using a reasonable cause standard, not a probable cause standard which is required for police searches. According to Calloway, a drug test constitutes a search under the 4th Amendment.

But House Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt, R- Jackson County, said a federal court decision striking down drug tests was not binding in Missouri. "We don't care what the 6th circuit says, we're the 8th circuit," Pratt said.

Calloway said that under the ruling in Goldberg v. Kelly, the Supreme Court ruled that welfare is not a right, but recipients are entitled to a hearing before losing this government benefit. The state also has a legitimate interest in regulating welfare programs and monitoring drug use.

"But is that interest narrowly tailored? No," Calloway said. There is a loss of due process, and the bill singles out a single class of people Calloway said. "It goes against the rational basis standard. They must expand the class tested in order for the state aim to be legitimate."

Calloway said this could be accomplished by expanding drug testing to every state worker, or every private company that receives tax payer money from the state, rather than just welfare recipients.

Calloway volunteered his legal services free of charge to any person wanting to challenge the constitutional muster of the bill should it become a law.

The final vote was 109-45, but the bill will need one more vote before heading to the Senate.