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Taxpayers’ Tab in Gov. Scott’s Losing Drug-Testing Lawsuits: $1.5 Million

| June 19, 2015

gov. rick scott drug testing taxdollars

Down the toilet. (dirtyboxface)

Florida taxpayers are on the hook for more than $1.5 million in legal fees — including nearly $1 million to civil-rights lawyers — because of Gov. Rick Scott’s failed push to force welfare applicants and tens of thousands of state workers to submit to suspicionless drug tests.

The state agreed earlier this month to pay $600,000 to the Florida Justice Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which represented a single father who sued the Department of Children and Families over a 2011 welfare drug-testing law. The payment, issued this week, was part of a settlement in the case, abandoned by Scott earlier this year after four years of litigation and multiple court decisions striking down the law.

A federal appeals court ruled in December that the state’s mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of applicants in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program is an unconstitutional violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. After the ruling, Scott decided to walk away from the lawsuit.

“We are proud to have brought an end to the policy,” Florida Justice Institute Executive Director Randall Berg said.

Other costs in the welfare drug-testing case totaled at least $309,000, including $13,300 for Avram Mack, a psychiatrist and Georgetown University School of Medicine professor whose testimony was banned by a judge. The court concluded that Mack was not qualified to be an expert in the case.

The state also paid the GrayRobinson law firm at least $160,000 to represent the Department of Children and Families.

The welfare drug-testing law “shamelessly exploited ugly stereotypes about poor people,” ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said.

“The settlement on our attorneys’ fees today finally closes the book on this ugly story and ensures that Floridians who apply for temporary assistance — or any other public benefit — won’t have to be subjected to invasive, humiliating and unconstitutional urine tests without cause or suspicion,” Simon said.

In a separate case, Scott and lawyers representing a state workers’ union reached agreement this spring on the types of Florida government employees who can be forced to undergo suspicionless drug tests. The union, represented by the ACLU, sued Scott after he issued an executive order shortly after taking office in 2011 ordering all workers in agencies under his control, as well as job applicants, to undergo random drug screens.

A federal judge put the policy on hold after the ACLU filed suit that summer, and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Scott could not constitutionally justify drug testing for all types of state employees without a reason, though it said testing could occur for some workers such as those in “safety-sensitive” positions. The appeals court ordered Scott and lawyers for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, to come up with a list of jobs that could be subject to testing.

Under a settlement agreement filed in federal court in April, the state agreed to pay the ACLU $375,000 in legal costs for the drawn-out litigation and to limit the drug tests to about 7,000 workers in 157 different job classes, a fraction of the 34,000 employees Scott’s blanket policy was intended to cover.

The taxpayer tab for that lawsuit totaled at least $675,000, including $180,000 for a private lawyer hired by the state, Thomas Bishop, and $120,000 for a special master to oversee the negotiations with the ACLU.

The amount spent on both lawsuits — at least $1.5 million — would cover about 8,900 days of residential substance-abuse treatment, based on average costs for in-patient treatment in Florida.

–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

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19 Responses for “Taxpayers’ Tab in Gov. Scott’s Losing Drug-Testing Lawsuits: $1.5 Million”

  1. Outsider says:

    One and a half million is roughly the cost of flying Obama and his family one way to Hawaii on Air Force One. I am anxiously awaiting a story on that.

    • Just a thought says:

      So no republican presidents ever took vacations? And if they did, how did they get there? I’ll tell you. Air Force One. All presidents take vacations at the publics expense. Get over it.

    • Jerry says:

      Who was talking about Obama?

  2. RickG says:

    If it weren’t for his wife’s drug testing companies I wonder how far this Governor would have pursued such a folly.

  3. Charles Ericksen Jr says:

    The “second” crime here is the amount of money paid to lawyers. This elite , holier than God, clan of individuals, are even bigger gougers of State funds than many Medicaid physicians.
    My position remains, that if you need to take a drug test for your employer, you should have no problem doing that to receive benefits. That is unless you are hiding something…

  4. Infamous Amos says:

    Why do you feel it is ok to test people who work for a living but it is not ok to drug test people who get our hard earned money for FREE.

    • A Small Mouse says:

      I agree with the drug testing comment. I fully support social welfare programs. In fact, that should be about the only job of Fed. Gov (see the “general welfare” statements in the constitution). With that, however, participation in benefits from these programs is voluntary, so the drug testing should not be viewed as an invasion of privacy. If a person doesn’t want to submit to a drug test, then that person can chose not to participate in the program. There are other requirements for these programs such as financial verification and medical documentation. These are not viewed as a violation of the 4th amendment, so why is drug testing a violation? Again, receiving benefits is voluntary.

      I’m generally a self-proclaimed left-wing liberal, but on this topic I fully support the “conservative” position.

  5. Nancy N says:

    Amos and Charles fail to understand the distinction between a private employer ordering a drug test and the government ordering a drug test of an individual. When McDonald’s orders its employee to take a drug test, it’s just a drug test. When the government orders an individual to take a drug test, no matter the stated purpose – that is a SEARCH from a legal standpoint. Two entirely different things. The constitution guarantees us the right to not have the government order a search of us or our property without certain safeguards and limitations being in place. Blanket government drug testing programs of employees and benefit recipients violate those safeguards. Period.

    Why would someone object to such a search by the government if they have nothing to hide? First, it’s a constitutional violation and some of us actually hold those protections in high regard as a matter of principle. Second, anytime you subject yourself to such a procedure you open yourself up to the possibility of lab or paperwork errors and other problems that could pronounce you guilty despite being innocent. You are trusting your reputation to a system that is NOT 100% error-free. Third, it’s a slippery slope…if we show ourselves as willing to throw the constitution aside because we don’t anticipate any harm specifically to ourselves in this instance, what right will they try to infringe next? It’s opening Pandora’s box.

  6. Nancy N says:

    Also, Amos….your comment about benefit recipients not working and getting benefits “for free” calls up a lot of ugly stereotypes that just simply aren’t true.

    Two of the biggest groups of welfare recipients are retirees who paid into the system their entire working life but who now don’t have enough to get by in retirement on social security and their pension, and the “working poor” – minimum wage employees at places like Walmart that make so little that they still qualify for benefits.

    The two other biggest groups of benefit recipients (in case you were wondering) are the disabled and children.

  7. Sherry E says:

    Because private employers who require drug testing normally do so for those employees who hold jobs that involve safety issues. . . like driving, etc. Just because a private employer requires a drug test has absolutely NOTHING to do with drug testing for those receiving social benefits. . . so says the law.

    This horrific governor is simply doing all he can to stigmatize those in our society who are underprivileged and need public assistance! And, he’s using our tax dollars to do it. People of conscience should be outraged, but then again they are few and far between in Flagler county.

  8. A Small Mouse says:

    Nancy, What you fail to realize is that receipt of these social welfare benefits is VOLUNTARY. In order to receive benefits, there are already several “searches” that the government does. When my family was on WIC, we had to provide proof of income and we had to sign a release with our doctor. My daughter was in the 3rd percentile for weight for her age, and they required us to allow a social worker into our house to evaluate her (she had a VERY high metabolism). All of that was voluntary: we could choose not to receive benefits.

    Likewise, drug testing should be tied to voluntary programs. The government is not forcing drug tests on people. The government is not requiring anyone to perform a drug test. People can opt out of the programs if the so choose. We see this in other established government programs already. Any police officer can pull over any driver and require that person to submit to a BAC test. We agree to that when we get a drivers license. If we don’t want to agree, we can choose not to have a drivers license. How is it any different to require drug testing of individuals voluntarily receiving social welfare benefits?

    • Nancy N says:

      Small Mouse, you have a funny definition of the terms “voluntary” and “choice”. If my child didn’t have enough food to eat, or required medical care, I wouldn’t consider a drug test necessary to secure those things for her “voluntary” or a “choice”. When the things being held up as “incentive” to take the test are life or death necessities, that’s not a “choice”. That’s coercion.

      You may have been fortunate enough that you didn’t need benefits badly enough to starve without them. Most people aren’t so lucky. Saying someone whose family is starving has a “choice” whether or not take a drug test to get benefits is quite simply a false construct. In theory, yes, it’s a “choice”. In reality, virtually no one has the ability to actually say no. The tests are coercive because of the desperate circumstances of the applicants.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Governor Scott pushed this for his self-aggrandizement and because he had nothing to lose. If he won, his wife’s company would have gotten a big pay-off. If he lost, he still got the publicity which I am sure elicited a lot of love from his ignoramus base. Of course, Florida taxpayers are stuck paying the bill for all this, but that wouldn’t mean much to a self-serving son of gun like Scott–or his Republican cronies in the Florida legislature.

  10. a tasty bacon sidedish says:

    Perhaps the question you should be asking is why you are willing to let your employer randomly drug test you. If your actions aren’t endangering the company, fellow employees, or clients they why would you let them test you?

    The same goes for “health fairs” that some businesses put on. Why would you let someone run blood tests on you that isn’t a doctor, let alone yours?

  11. Cypress Grand says:

    Ninety-eight percent (98%) of Florida’s welfare applicants passed a new mandatory drug screening that was implemented by the state.

  12. Cypress Grand says:

    COST: $178 Million – Net savings to the state: $3,400 to $5,000 annually on one month’s worth of rejected applicants. Over 12 months, the money saved on all rejected applicants would add up to $40,800 to $60,000 for a program that state analysts have predicted will cost $178 million this fiscal year.

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