In arguing against the bill, Morgan cited her daughter’s godfather, who went from making six figures, to being laid off, to making a salary of about $20,000 because it was all he could find.
“But during the six month period that he was unemployed, to have to subject him to drug testing because there’s someone who thinks that he may be sitting at home using drugs with the state’s money, I have a problem with that,” Morgan said.
Morgan brought up the point about Republicans being the party of limited government.
“And I also ask the question, particularly of those who are in the Republican Party, who believe in less government, how that does not infringe on someone’s privacy, how that does not represent really the invasion of government,” she said.
Morgan referenced the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
“There’s this perception that people have of what a TANF recipient looks like perhaps, and I think we have to move away from that, and it makes me wonder, lastly, what if we drug tested corporations who received federal dollars, those who we bailed out, what if those who received government contracts of any sort would have to subject themselves to drug testing, and what would that be like, and how do we make sure people have the dignity and not subject them to drug testing, so I absolutely oppose it,” she said.
Morgan said while she hoped the legislature wouldn’t debate the bill, because high ranking officials had signed onto it, she expects there will be a debate.
“But I hope we don’t subject my fellow Georgians to that kind of invasion of privacy and disrespect,” she said.
The other two Democrats at the forum, state Reps. David Wilkerson of Austell and Stacey Evans of Smyrna, also criticized the bill. Wilkerson said before people applying for unemployment benefits are forced to be drug tested, the members of the General Assembly should first have to go through the procedure.
Evans said one reason she opposes the bill is the impact it would have on children.
“People who need public assistance are already down on their luck,” Evans said. “Something has happened in their life to cause them to have to go and ask the government for money. Nobody wants to do that. And if we take money away from families we’re taking food out of the mouths of our children.”
Evans moreover said she agrees with Wilkerson about lawmakers being drug tested.
“If we’re going to do it, we need to be consistent,” she said. “Anybody who is getting money from the state, any single tax payer dollar going to anybody whether it’s those on public assistance, whether it’s us as legislators, whether it’s government contractors, whether it’s the many business sectors that enjoy tax breaks, which is essentially our tax dollars, which is our tax dollars, we got to be consistent, we can’t pick and choose, especially we can’t pick a population that has been proven to use drugs less than the general population, I don’t know why we would ever start there.”
Rogers addressed Morgan’s invasion of privacy argument by saying no one is forcing applicants to apply for taxpayer dollars.
“If you’re predisposed to use illegal narcotics, you don’t have to apply to get the benefits,” Rogers said. “Nobody is forcing you to do that. But if you’re going to take somebody else’s money, by definition it is money somebody else had to pay in the system, it’s not uncommon for us to have requirements to do so.”
Rogers said the policy has already been implemented in Florida and is “to some degree a success” there.
Not true, Evans replied.
“They’ve actually spent more on tests than they’ve saved on benefits because what they found out through their experiment is that the percentage of drug use among those on public assistance is actually less than the drug use among the general public,” Evans said. “So it’s just simply not true to say we have a reason to suspect that this population is using drugs, and so we need to put these tests in place so we can stop people from getting money who are spending it on drugs. That’s just a myth, and Florida has proved that, so I don’t see in these economic times why Georgia would want to dole out more money for tests that are going to cost them more than they’re going to be saving in benefits.”
The fifth lawmaker in attendance Thursday, state Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), said he has signed on in support of the bill.
“My first reaction is I am in favor of it,” Tippins said. “I want to see some absolute cost data. I want to see what it would cost, but I think people who are receiving public assistance ought to meet a certain level of personal responsibility. Certainly there are some things in their lives that they do not have control over, but there are some that they do, and I think personal behavior is one of them.”
The lawmakers addressed a number of other topics during the forum, from taxes and charter schools to transportation and prison reform. Thursday’s event, which was held in the county commission’s chamber, was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, American Association of University Women and Rho Zeta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha.