- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Gov. Paul LePage’s administration said Tuesday that it will move forward with its plan to drug test welfare applicants after being given the green light by Maine’s attorney general.

The new rule, which was given final approval by Attorney General Janet Mills’ office and sent to the secretary of state’s office, will require some applicants in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program who have been convicted of drug-related felonies in the last 20 years to be tested for drugs.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it will begin implementing the drug testing program but could not immediately say when the first tests will be administered.

The Republican governor’s administration has said that the state must ensure that its limited welfare resources are going to those who most need them, like children and the elderly.

But advocates for the poor say that the initiative is not a good use of money, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has called it unconstitutional.

The attorney general’s office recommended several changes to the proposed rule to strengthen it against a potential lawsuit. Among those was that the department use a questionnaire to screen applicants in an effort to identify people who are more likely to be using drugs.

Zach Heiden, legal director for the ACLU of Maine, said the attorney general improved the plan but that the group remains opposed to the effort. It plans to closely monitor the way it’s implemented and will decide whether to file a lawsuit as it unfolds, he said.

“It certainly has been something that the ACLU has litigated all over the country because it is so misguided,” he said. “This is a waste of state resource which could be better spent on many things.”

A spokesman for Mayhew said the tests will cost $62 each.

Federal law prohibits people from receiving welfare benefits if they have a prior drug felony conviction, but states can opt out of the ban, according to National Conference of State Legislatures. Maine is one of at least five states that allow those with prior convictions to receive benefits if they are drug tested, the group says.

Some states that have passed broader drug testing laws have faced lawsuits. But LePage’s administration has said that it believes its narrow law will be able to withstand a challenge. Florida sought to require all applicants for welfare benefits to undergo mandatory drug testing, but a judge ruled in 2013 that it was unconstitutional.

Maine law had allowed drug tests to be given to TANF recipients since 2011, but it required DHHS to craft rules for how the law would be enforced before the tests could be given.


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