Federal judge blocks Florida's welfare drug testing law
Florida has been in the news recently for its extensive problems with prescription drug abuse and prescription fraud by doctors who open pain clinics and freely dispense meds, but recently they’ve also been in the news because the state enacted a law that required welfare recipients to take a drug test, and pass, before receiving benefits. Oct. 24, a federal judge temporarily blocked Florida’s controversial drug testing law, saying it violates the constitution by giving applicants an unlawful search and seizure.
Judge Mary Scriven made the ruling on behalf of a Florida resident who filed a lawsuit against the state when he was denied benefits because he refused to take the test. Luis Lebron is a 35-year-old Navy veteran who is also a single father of one, working to finish his college degree. He said he filed suit based on the fourth amendment, which guards against an individual being searched without probably cause or reasonable suspicion.
Scriven, who was appointed by George W. Bush, wrote in her opinion that the drug test can reveal more about the applicant than just what drugs he might be using, potentially revealing a multitude of other medical facts that he might want kept private. She said it was troubling to her that the results were not kept private but rather they can also be shared with law enforcement officers and a drug abuse hotline.
"This potential interception of positive drug tests by law enforcement implicates a `far more substantial' invasion of privacy than in ordinary civil drug testing cases," said Scriven. She added that the temporary injunction will stay in place until a full hearing can be held on the matter, though she didn’t say when that would be.
In the mean time, Florida will approve all applications that have been pending while the applicants schedule and take their drug tests. The applicants who were denied based on positive results or refusal to take the test may also re-apply immediately.
Almost 1,600 applicants have refused to take the test since the law was enacted. More than 7,000 applicants have passed the test and only 32 have failed the test. According to the Department of Children and Families most of those who tested positive tested positive for marijuana use.
Gov. Rick Scott is a proponent of the law, and during his campaign, he said it would save the state $77 million. Though he never said how, the assumption was that the state would not be paying out benefits for those who tested positive for drug use, thus saving the state money. Scott also made the controversial move of making drug tests mandatory for new state workers and spot checks of existing state employees under him. The law was challenged in a separate lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and was suspended because of that lawsuit.
"Drug testing welfare recipients is just a common-sense way to ensure that welfare dollars are used to help children and get parents back to work," said Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott. "The governor obviously disagrees with the decision and he will evaluate his options regarding when to appeal."