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Federal Judge Calls Florida’s Drug-Testing Of Welfare Recipients Unconstitutional

| October 24, 2011

urine tests welfare recipients federal judge florida rick scott

Bagged, for now. (Ruth Erdahl)

The state’s effort to drug-test welfare recipients hit a roadblock Monday, as a federal judge barred the state from following the plan until there’s a final ruling in the case.

U.S. District Court Judge Mary Scriven, nominated to the bench by George W. Bush in 2008, rejected the state’s arguments that the drug-testing program did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s 4th Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and would instead ensnare thousands of would-be welfare recipients in an impermissible dragnet. (See the judge’s full decision below.)

“The constitutional rights of a class of citizens are at stake, and the Constitution dictates that the needs asserted to justify subverting those rights must be special, as the case law defines that term, in order for this exception to the Fourth Amendment to apply,” Scriven wrote. “That showing has not been made on this record.”

Judge Mary Scriven

Scriven also wrote that the state’s attorneys did not produce “competent evidence that any TANF funds would be saved by instituting a drug testing program.”

Opponents of the drug-testing regimen, which passed with Gov. Rick Scott’s support during this year’s legislative session and has proven popular in polls, hailed the decision. It came in the case of Luis Lebron, a 35-year-old Orlando resident who applied for benefits in July but refused to take a drug test.

“This should send a message to all lawmakers that the 4th Amendment protects everyone,” said Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute, which represented Lebron along with the ACLU of Florida.

Supporters of the measure continued to defend the new law, but said they were trying to decide how to move forward following the judge’s decision.

“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, deputy press secretary for Gov. Rick Scott. “The governor obviously disagrees with the decision and he will evaluate his options regarding when to appeal.”

“I still believe it’s definitely the right law for Florida and Florida’s children,” said Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, who sponsored the drug-testing bill in the House.


The decision also threw a fresh spotlight on the Foundation for Government Accountability, a think tank based in Naples that produced a study and said the testing regime had saved the state $1.8 million in the first quarter and could save hundreds of millions of dollars if applied nationwide.

But Scriven slammed the report, saying it made faulty assumptions and “is not competent expert opinion, nor is it offered as such, nor could it be reasonably construed as such.”

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, specifically applauded Scriven for tackling the study by the foundation, headed by a Scott ally.

“It’s bad enough they’re actually defending this privacy-gutting law,” she said. “But it’s especially troubling when they’re relying on the self-serving musings of the governor’s friend to justify it.”

The foundation’s president and CEO, Tarren Bragdon, fired back.

“Judge Scriven’s ruling against Florida’s drug-testing requirement for taxpayer-funded welfare cash is disappointing, and removes needed accountability from our welfare system,” Bragdon said. “Our analysis of the law shows that the requirement is saving the state millions in welfare benefits, and helps ensure taxpayer dollars are reserved only for the truly needy.”

–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida


Lebron v. Wilkins, Federal Ruling Declaring drug-testing of welfare recipients unconstitutional

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29 Responses for “Federal Judge Calls Florida’s Drug-Testing Of Welfare Recipients Unconstitutional”

  1. Ralph says:

    They want to xray my body every time I walk through an airport, but this is unconstitutional?

  2. Jojo says:

    There is justice after all. This guy Rick Scott is an idiot. Man don’t belong holding an elected position more less Governor.

  3. Ralph says:

    Jojo, federal employees and the military and many private companies must submit to drug tests. Why do you object to this?

  4. Hard working American says:

    I say piss test everyone on welfare. It shouldn’t be a judge making the decision on how the tax money we as citizens pay is spent. Considering our taxes are the thing funding these people to sit around on their asses and do nothing all day while when they should be out looking for jobs. I don’t mind helping people out but it’d be nice to know our money isn’t going to some crack head on the south side of Bunnell. If these people aren’t doing anything wrong then what’s their fear of being tested. People are taking advantage of a system that was designed to help out the less fortunate, they’re getting comfortable living off the government and have no motivation to go get jobs or further better themselves. I bust my ass every day at work just like millions of others in this country and every week I’m living paycheck to paycheck. Where’s my help? Where’s my assistance? Why don’t my children get free food at school? Cause I actually earn my money the honest way and don’t depend on others for a free ride!!!!!

  5. Nicole says:

    Well let’s stop drug testing people who are out getting a REAL job trying to better themselves!!! How the hell is this even fair??!! I work hard for my money and have to pay all these damn taxes for the lazy bums to sit on their asses and smoke weed, snort coke and make meth all day…this just aint right…

  6. Ralph says:

    Stay clean, nothing to fear.

  7. palmcoaster says:

    As a tax payer I do not want to pay Rick Scott’s business “conflict of Interest” and revenue packing, the cost of these drug testing. We are broke as is…no frivolous spending. Justice served so far. When private corporations demand drug testing with jobs applications is just fine as we the taxpayers do not pay for that! How come you guys here want so much government deregulation to “supposedly save us money”…but when it comes to the poor that doesn’t count? I can see how many of the 1% reside here in the gated and semi gated communities .Rampant display of hypocrisy!

  8. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    This article is inaccurate. The judge has not ruled on the merits of the case, the judge has not “ruled this law to be unconstitutional”, the judge has merely accepted the request of the plaintiff to grant a temporary injunction until the case can actually be heard.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Johnny Taxpayer, while it is strictly true that the judge hasn’t ruled on the merits, and she says so, she has indeed called the practice unconstitutional. After devoting many pages to ridiculing the state’s claims, shoddy and duplicitous evidence that the program would save money or that it is in the public interest, she writes: “[I]f invoking an interest in preventing public funds from potentially being used to fund drug use were the only requirement to establish a special need, the State could impose drug testing as an eligibility requirement for every beneficiary of every government program. Such blanket intrusions cannot be countenanced under the Fourth Amendment. What the Fourth Amendment requires is that such incursions by the Government must be reserved for demonstrated special needs of government or be based on some showing of reasonable suspicion or probable cause. The State has made no showing that it would be “impracticable” to meet these prerequisites in the context of TANF recipients. Any suggestion that it would be impracticable should be based on some evidentiary showing, and any such showing would likely be belied by the fact that other states competently administer TANF funds without drug tests or with suspicion-based drug testing and no other state employs blanket suspicionless drug testing.” It helps to read the opinion, included at the foot of the article for your convenience.

  9. Abstract Thinking says:

    It would be nice if that were so Ralph, but that’s not really what this is about. It’s about politics and money (and not more more money for the citizens). Who benefits from millions of urine drug screens? The manufacturer and testing companies. Those who want to know exactly how to “beat the test” and Gov. Scott knows that. I daresay if there were jobs aplenty in Flagler County, there’d be workers filling them up.

  10. Rick G says:

    And I suppose those corporations that accept government subisidies and tax breaks will also have its employees and CEOs peeing in a bottle as well. Oh that’s different huh. How is it so different?

  11. JIM.R says:

    People like Ralph and Hardworking American are so dense and self righteous that they think 20 or so million people are out of work because they chose to be.
    Giving up your rights a little at a time is how you end up with no rights, and Drug tests are a joke because you have to be stupid not to know what to do to pass them. It’s easy to do, ask a trucker.

  12. Greg says:

    This should work just as well then for all of the traditional employment/travel screens. We need to get off of the do-good socialist activist judge bandwagon ASAP.

  13. Kip Durocher says:

    I think this is a great law. Ensuring that my taxes are not wasted. It should be made to include all city, county, state elected officials and employees, all judges, states attorneys, public defenders, school crossing guards, voters, retired people who are stoned and wasting social security money, the governor, all his cabinet and anyone else I don’t like.
    Test once a week and put results everywhere like lottery results.
    All people who live in Florida and somehow do not fall into one the above groups will also be tested.
    No stoner will waste tax money that way.

    Some of the above posts are retarded ~ you know who you are.

  14. BW says:

    I’m not really sure at this point which is sadder. The fact that we have a Governor that people elected that feels that a “cure” for welfare is to test for drug use. Or the comments of people like Nicole who has a “real job” and apparently is immune to ever having hardship in her life. I’m sure we’d all like to know what that “real job” is so we can get trained for it and seek out that opportunity ASAP!

    It’s not like we have millions people out of work right? Oh wait, we do. It’s not like there isn’t 46 million people below the poverty level and statistically have same average number of children as any US household at 1.9 kids right? Oh wait, we do. So, yes, the real problem is . . . the poor people. In fact, the “Hard Working American” here has even pinpointed for us the specific local geographic area (South Bunnell) and the drug of choice (crack). So thanks to him for that. Because apparently the problem isn’t that people need assistance (regardless of the millions out of work and millions earning below poverty levels), it’s they are lazy drug addicts. And that is why people like Nicole and the Hard Working person should really never speak again in public. And if they were educated in this town please close all of our schools immediately and revamp them. If they attended college . . . they wasted their money.

    Here’s the real problem . . . attitude. We applaud and elect politicians that say these things while we should be rejecting them. We have loads of people applauding this demonizing of illegals, the poor, the unemployed, and basically any victim out there. All the while these are the same people who want to claim they “got it right” when it comes to morality and values. That we should all want to be “just like them”. I say . . . No thank you. I have this silly attitude that prefers asking “Why is that person poor?” rather than saying “That poor person is the problem.” Or “Why can’t that person get citizenship today?” rather than say “That ‘illegal’ is the problem.” Because the bottom line is these classification and labels we’ve assigned are comprised of people. Real people. With names. With hopes, dreams, feelings. They get sick and need care. They get hungry and would like to eat. They are people. And if being one of the “in” people means not caring about people then I’ll just stay on the “outside”.

    So you all just keep putting up your McCains, Palins, Perrys, Romneys, Bachmanns, Cains, and Pauls (who actually wants to legalize all drugs by the way); lose elections and then continue to whine your “socialist” junk. The problem isn’t the voters by the way it’s the fact that you keep choosing really bad candidates. Because when you get down to it, that’s all it’s really about isn’t it? Which side “wins” and the truth is that need to have that “win” is causing a lot of people of people to lose dearly.

  15. palmcoaster says:

    BW, I am so moved reading your realistic and compassionate words and knowing that out there, are great Americans like you, that is really what makes America still, Number One. Thank You.
    “When the rich think about the poor, they have poor ideas”

  16. Binkey says:

    I don’t believe there are a lot of people on welfare who would be caught on drugs. Addicts might get caught but getting welfare takes an effort to jump through the hoops to get it. Drug addicts main concern is where am I getting my next fix. They shop lift, they break into cars, they are up all night, hanging around the parking lot making deals at whatever store is open 24 hours. It’s all about the right now, It’s I need my fix and I don’t care- those are the ones that could get caught, but even they can get around a drug test.

    That was passed as either a make brownie points with those who are not well informed or an attempt to line someone’s pocket.

  17. Ralph says:

    Binkey: you mean pick our pockets like every other politician?

    The same thing is going to happen when federal healthcare kicks in.

  18. Nicole says:

    Ummm…BW, I am going through hardships everyday. I live pay check to pay check as well as most people. The thing is, I got the job 5 years ago and have been drug tested several times. I make “too much” to qualify for any assistance from the government, but I can’t even afford to buy groceries. I know several people who are more than able to work but live off of the system anyways. Not because they cannot find a job, but because they are LAZY!!! And guess what…THEY WOULD FAIL A URNIE TEST!! This is not saying that everybody in the system are lazy drug addicts; just some. But those who are honest and really need the help should not worry about being tested as I am sure they are not wasting money on drugs or alcohol. I have seen both sides and it’s only fair that if the people who are lucky enough to have a job are tested, that the people that need the assistance get tested. I am in no way a political person, but I am all about being fair.

  19. Jojo says:

    Right off the bat, some of the comments here are prejudicial toward people on welfare. It is assumed that just because an individual is on welfare, the Great State of Florida (Namely, RICK SCOTT) suggests that they are suspect as drug users much like the Irish are all drunks, or blacks are lazy and Chinese people are sneaky..

    What exactly is Rick Scott trying to accomplish while violating a welfare recipient as a drug user. I don’t understand the mentality of this man in attacking the downtrodden in our society at a time when 43 million people are out of work. This Governor has already tried to thrash the separation of powers doctrine as the Executive of our State. Now, Scott wants to violate search and seizure 4th Amendmnt rights of individuals because they are too poor to fight back.

    I question Scott creating 78,000 jobs in this State on a promise to create one million when running for Governor. all or most of these jobs are in the hospitality field paying minimum wage, just a tad above welfare. Let’s Get To Work is Scotti’s calling card.

  20. Palmcoastbabe says:

    I think you all need to reread the article again. This program was not done to pick on anyone, but to ensure the taxpayers are not funding a drug habit.

    It has already saved the state $1.8 million in the first quarter alone and could save billions nationwide. Since the state is required to but the testing company out for a bid in order to meet state requirements and save the taxpayers money, your argument about making labs rich a little lame.

    Military have been testing for decades, ALL MILITARY, as have corporations and small companies. And yes, even the bosses are tested.

    But no, you will argue politics and we will get nowhere.

  21. Palmcoastbabe says:

    I don’t think you want your bus drivers, your airline pilots, your train conductors on drugs.

    Stop making excuses and blaming this on anybody. It is something we all do in many walks of life.

    Is no one responsible for ANYTHING anymore, most of all themselves?

  22. Jojo says:

    PalmCoastBabe. I think you do protest too much about nothing. Rick Scott has promulgated this group (Welfare Recipients) as a suspect group not to save tax payers money but to run amok of 4th Amendment rights of welfare recipients because the Gov assumes they are using drugs. Unlike, the Armed Forces, Civil Servants and other employing companies in this State, welfare recipients have no choice to refuse a drug test namely because they must eat and feed their family. On the other hand, military, civil service and other jobs are informed when they are hired to subject to drug testing. They have a choice, welfare recipients don’t and can literally starve to death by refusing. That’s the difference. It’s not about taxes. Florida is a very cruel State when it comes to the disadvantaged. There go I but for the grace of God, Babe.

  23. Nicole says:

    Consider this…seeing as the welfare recipients receive a check from the government, they should be considered employees of the government, therefore, should undergo everything the working class has to (interviews, drug test, etc)…sad but true; hard but fair…

  24. Jojo says:

    Nicole, as employees of the State do they receive Pensions, Holiday pay, sick days, something you can be proud of working for instead of receiving a stipend barely enough to survive each month. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Let them work for it, but hey, there is no work? What the hell, let’s drug test the children of welfare recipients as well so Scott’s wife can make more money on her husbands money making ideas.

  25. Nicole says:

    Jojo, I see your point. Not much to reply back to, but there still has to be a way to weed out the ones taking advantage of the system and the tax dollars…I see it everyday as i’m sure you do too. It’s just sad…

  26. Anonymous says:

    To resolve some of our country’s economic issues even Bill Gates agrees.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/31/bill-gates-says-he-supports-taxing-the-rich_n_1067079.ht. Drug testing on the poor will not resolve it. Help and jobs to the unemployed and poor will do it!

  27. bubbett says:

    I am all for drug screens for the government protecting tax monies from handing out a government check,to a person who might use it for wasteful purposes. Anyone getting a check from the government including government workers and C..E.O.’s who manage that money. Random and mandatory. i would like to know if the police officer who can use a tazor on me is on steriods. ,or the congressman who signs the “bill” to start another war is on exstacy. Or if the presdient is smoking really good pot before he meets with the secretary of state. oh , and when those tax refunds come on. get you pee cup. .

  28. just me says:

    I think personally that people that get ANY kind of state assistance should submit a urine test and a random one at that because who’s to say that they will just “stay clean” for the time period needed t go get the assistance then start using again,it takes 3 days to get cocaine out of your system and 30 days for pot and then there are the things you can go and buy at one store that I know of that you can be clean in hours for a testing.I think it needs to be done.We are about to loose our home do to foreclosure because the place where my husband used to work shut down do to lack of business then he remained unemployed for a very long time and now that he is working again and I am terminally ill so I can not work but can’t get disability either because they said I do not have enough “working points” and we are STRUGGLING with money for the house,food,electric water and cable AND raising a 20 month old grandson since he was 6 weeks old and GUESS WHAT !! WE CAN NOT GET ANYTHING because even though we are struggling “HE MAKES TO MUCH” at $9 per hr.and that is coming down from over $15.75 per hr PLUS commission at his last job.So we may be sitting in the dark soon on the side of the road WITH A BABY !!!! But perhaps THEN we can get some kind of help.Not like NJ though NJ rocks but we can not even afford to go up there nor can we take the baby out of state….We would get food stamps,housing,welfare FOR FIVE YEARS and I would get medical IF we could take the baby with us and even if I were just to go there by myself I could get welfare and medical and housing and I would GLADLY piss in a cup for that!!!!

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