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Tennessee Lawmaker Files Bill to Expand Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) — A Tennessee lawmaker wants to expand the drug testing of welfare recipients.

Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) has just filed House Bill 88. Griffey says he and his wife have seen the assistance programs be abused as their personal experiences as prosecutors in Tennessee.

“I would prefer to mandate drug testing of all welfare applicants/recipients across the board, particularly inasmuch as state and federal employees who are paid by taxpayers are subject to random drug screens; however, federal appellate courts currently require a probable cause basis for drug testing of welfare recipients. I do not want to subject the State of Tennessee to the expense of constitutional challenges. I do feel the bill I proposed significantly improves the system," Griffey said.

Here are the bill's key components:

  • Expand drug testing program of SNAP (food stamps) applicants and recipients, in addition to TANF

  • Eliminate a Department Human Services discretion form that asks an applicant if they use illegal drugs. Right now, Tennessee law mandates that drug tests are only performed if the applicant checks that "yes" they do use illegal drugs. Griffey says, "“In my opinion, this is a very flawed system because it is dependent upon the applicant being honest about illegal drug use, grants discretion to DHS and relies upon the results of one of the most unreliable drug screens."

  • Increase the list of drug related questions posed to applicants/recipients from just a couple to 15 questions.

  • Make it a crime to answer drug-related questions falsely

  • Requires law enforcement agencies to report to DHS anyone charged with a drug or theft related crime

  • Requires DHS to drug test any applicant/recipient if they've been charged

  • Use a 7-panel hair folical test rather than a 5-panel urine test to screen welfare recipients for drugs

  • Additionally, to prevent this welfare reform measure from adversely impacting minor children, the bill provides that if a parent or a caretaker relative is deemed ineligible for welfare benefits as a result of the drug testing process, then the dependent child's eligibility for benefits is not affected, and an appropriate protective payee will be designated to receive benefits on behalf of the child who is under sixteen (16) years of age. In the event a dependent child is sixteen (16) years or older, the child shall receive the benefits directly as the payee.

“A message needs to be sent that if you have a drug addiction, taxpayers will no longer continue to enable that addiction by paying for your housing, food, utilities, phones and gas unless you seek help to overcome that addiction. Welfare was never intended to be a long-term hand out, but rather a short-term hand up,” stated Griffey.

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