May 18, 2011 5:53 AM by Nichole Larkey & AP
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Louisiana House voted Tuesday to
approve a Metairie lawmaker's bill to require drug testing of
welfare recipients who get cash benefits, but not before prompting
a heated debate about its constitutionality.
Some lawmakers said it would also have the effect of
discriminating against poor black people, regardless of its intent.
Republican state Rep. John LaBruzzo said the bill would help
welfare recipients who abuse drugs gain financial independence.
The proposal would require at least 20 percent of people who
receive cash benefits to submit to tests. If beneficiaries selected
at random fail the test, they must submit to treatment or lose only
the cash portion of their benefits. A positive drug screen would
not impact health care, housing or food assistance.
Through a separate bill, taxpayers would be allowed to donate
money to offset the $15,000 annual cost of the proposed program.
LaBruzzo said taxpayers already pay for the costs of drug use
among the welfare population in Louisiana. He told House members
that treatment for a child exposed to drugs during pregnancy costs
roughly $250,000 during the first three years of life.
"What that illustrates is the cost to taxpayers of every child
that's born to a drug-addicted parent," he said.
He said many employers who offer work that doesn't require GEDs
are forced by their insurance companies to conduct drug tests.
"There are jobs out there for people who are on welfare if
they're clean," LaBruzzo said.
But some lawmakers said the proposal may violate the
constitution by requiring search and seizure without probable
"When the government mandates a suspicion-less search, which is
what these drug tests are, there are Fourth Amendment implications
for the United States Constitution," said Rep. Jon Bel Edwards,
A similar bill passed in Michigan was overturned by the 6th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals, which does not control courts in
Louisiana. Another similar bill was passed more recently in Florida
but has not yet been addressed by the appellate court there.
Aside from legal concerns, lawmakers also argued the bill is
unnecessary. The state already screens welfare applicants for drug
use through an interview-based evaluation.
Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, was among lawmakers who
argued that the bill would have a racially discriminatory effect,
despite its motivation, and assumes that people on welfare take
illegal drugs. On the floor, Barrow pointed out that former
Metairie Rep. and one-time Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke
introduced a similar bill in 1989.
"I want to think that it isn't (racist), but it's certainly
tailored to a very specific population," said Barrow.
LaBruzzo said the bill is not racist.
"They passed it in Florida," he said. "Does that mean they
copied David Duke?"
Despite the controversy on the floor Tuesday, the bill
ultimately received the support of 65 lawmakers, over half of the
chamber. The bill also gained co-authors, bringing the total to
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it has one coauthor so
far, Sen. Jonathan Perry, R-Abbeville. LaBruzzo said he has not yet
begun reaching out for support in that chamber.