Video of his remarks at a meeting Friday of Madison County Republicans was posted on the YouTube web site.
Tillis told his audience he would like to push for drug testing in North Carolina if the Republicans remain in power after the 2012 elections.
"What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance," he told his audience.
Through an aide Tuesday, Tillis qualified the remark.
"The Speaker simply meant that we need to protect individuals who, through no choice or fault of their own, depend on the state for benefits, and we need to ensure that those individuals are not negatively impacted by a small group of people who may abuse the system. It's about providing real help to those legitimately in need while protecting our programs from fraud, waste and abuse," read the statement.
Jennifer Rudinger with the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday drug testing requirements for welfare recipients are unconstitutional and ineffective.
"Drug testing as a requirement for public assistance is not only a violation of an individual’s constitutional rights, but notoriously ineffective," said Rudinger in a statement.
Tillis also agreed with a meeting participant's statement that drug testing be expanded to state employees.
"Testing every public aid recipient or state employee, regardless of their job or whether or not they are suspected of drug use, would represent an egregious, wasteful, and unjustified invasion of privacy for potentially millions of North Carolinians," said Rudinger.
Florida is currently the only state in the nation with a law on the books in the U.S. requiring welfare applicants take a drug test to get assistance.
The requirement took effect in July. A federal judge in Orlando is mulling a lawsuit claiming the measure is unconstitutional.
In North Carolina, the state Court of Appeals has ruled that the random drug testing of Graham County school employees is unlawful.