Federal Judge Calls Florida’s Drug-Testing Of Welfare Recipients Unconstitutional
FlaglerLive | October 24, 2011
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.
- Federal Suit Filed Against Florida Law Requiring Drug Tests of Welfare Recipients
- ACLU Sues Rick Scott As Drug Testing of Public Employees and Welfare Recipients Begins
- Rick Scott Orders State Employees Randomly Drug-Tested Often, Like Welfare Recipients
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.”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