AUGUSTA — Critics of a bill that would establish drug testing for recipients of state assistance say the proposal is likely unconstitutional.

That was the testimony delivered Monday by low-income and civil rights advocates in response to a bill by Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, who proposed suspending benefits for MaineCare recipients who test positive for illegal drugs.

A second bill sponsored by Rep. Rich Cebra, R-Naples, was also confronted with stiff opposition. Cebra’s bill would require drug testing for Medicaid recipients who are currently taking medication for scheduled drugs.

According to Cebra’s bill summary, the proposal is designed to make sure recipients on medication are taking the medication.

Saviello’s bill is geared toward MaineCare. He told the Health and Human Services Committee that since some employers drug test job applicants the state should do the same before paying for assistance.

Saviello said that he’s heard frequently from constituents that welfare recipients were taking illegal drugs.

“This sends a message that if you’re going to do drugs, you can’t receive our help,” he said.

But officials from the state’s Integrated Access and Support Services said that Saviello’s bill would likely violate several sections of the federal Social Security Act.

According to the department, the state of Illinois tried to implement a proposal similar to Saviello’s. However, the bill was ruled unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court.

According to the Maine Civil Liberties Union, Michigan recently tried to impose random drug testing for welfare recipients. The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the bill in court, where it was eventually defeated for violating the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The MCLU said that 10 percent of welfare recipients tested positive for illicit drugs in Michigan before the law was struck down.

On Monday, the MCLU argued that both Cebra’s and Saviello’s bills would be ineffective despite their populist appeal.

“Despite the pervasive and perhaps politically expedient stereotyping of drug users in our society, the truth is that people who receive benefits are no more likely to use illicit drugs than the general population,” the organization argued in its written testimony.

Maine Equal Justice Partners said that Cebra’s bill was a costly proposal that could violate patient–provider relationships.

Both bills were reviewed Monday by the Health and Human Services Committee, which also took up several other bills relating to MaineCare, Maine’s Medicaid program.

Saviello’s bill is opposed by the American Association of Social Workers’ Maine chapter. Its executive director, Susan Lamb, said people with serious mental illness have a high rate of substance abuse, and without treatment for their addictions they will spiral downhill.

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