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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.

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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. 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.


  2. Ralph says:

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

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


  3. 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.


  4. 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.


  5. 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.


  6. 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?


  7. 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.


  8. 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…


  9. 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.


  10. 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…


  11. Anonymous says:

    To resolve some of our country’s economic issues even Bill Gates agrees. Drug testing on the poor will not resolve it. Help and jobs to the unemployed and poor will do it!


  12. 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. .


  13. 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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