Judge halts Florida’s drug testing law

A federal judge in Florida on Monday temporarily blocked a law requiring welfare applicants to undergo drug testing before receiving public benefits. The judge noted the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Judge Mary Scriven ruled in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of a 35-year-old Navy veteran and single father who sought the benefits while finishing his college degree, but refused to take the test. The judge said there was a good chance plaintiff Luis Lebron would succeed in his challenge to the law based on the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from being unfairly searched.

The drug test can reveal a host of private medical facts about the individual, Scriven wrote, adding that she found it “troubling” that the drug tests are not kept confidential like medical records. The results 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,” Scriven said. 

The judge also said Florida didn’t show that the drug testing program meets criteria for exceptions to the Fourth Amendment.

The injunction will stay in place until the judge can hold a full hearing on the matter. She didn’t say when that hearing will be scheduled.

I’ve already stated my position on this matter in this post. In that post I argued that laws such as these laws “are inherently discriminatory against a certain group of people who do not fit into the racial, economic, social and moral box mainstream American has created to distinguish itself from The Others.”

In their minds, any American receiving or applying for public assistance is inherently lazy and are a threat to the American ideals of picking yourself up by the bootstraps and fighting tooth and nail to earn a decent living.

These laws subjugate ordinary Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures (which is unconstitutional by way of the 4th amendment for those who didn’t know) by requiring them to undergo drug testing without prior suspicion. Whether we like it or not, we can’t punish a group of people just because we believe they are more suspect to use drugs. Just like we can’t punish Muslims and Arabs by subjecting them to unjust searches and unfounded racial profiling because we believe they all are terrorists. Just like we can’t racially profile all black men because we believe they are violent drug dealers and gang members.

Laws such as these are directly aimed at creating yet another burden for the poor, women, minority and disabled to get the help they need to once again become self-sufficient. Since policy makers have no political balls to strip away public safety nets, they instead make the process cumbersome by creating hurdles and bureaucratic red tape in order to deter people from using these available resources. These additional steps are designed to deter The Others from applying for the resources put into place to help people just like them.

In a more recent post, I wrote about a report that indicates the law was not saving money for the state:

The Department of Central Florida’s (DCF) region tested 40 applicants and only two tested positive for drugs, officials said. One of the tests is being appealed. Governor Rick Scott said the program would save money. Critics said it already looks like a boondoggle.”We have a diminishing amount of returns for our tax dollars. Do we want out governor throwing our precious tax dollars into a program that has already been proven not to work?” Derek Brett of the ACLU said.

DCF said it has been referring applicants to clinics where drug screenings cost between $30 and $35. The applicant pays for the test out of his or her own pocket and then the state reimburses him if they test comes back negative.

Therefore, the 38 applicants in the Central Florida area, who tested negative, were reimbursed at least $30 each and cost taxpayers $1,140. 

Meanwhile, the state is saving less than $240 a month by refusing benefits to those two applicants who tested positive.

The TIME magazine article noted Florida Gov. Rick Scott touted the law earlier this year, adding it would save the state $77 million. Also, a little interesting tidbit about the governor and the state:

Earlier this year, Scott also ordered drug testing of new state workers and spot checks of existing state employees under him. But testing was suspended after the American Civil Liberties Union also challenged that policy in a separate lawsuit.

Nearly 1,600 applicants have refused to take the test since testing began in mid-July, but they aren’t required to say why. Thirty-two applicants failed the test and more than 7,000 have passed, according to the Department of Children and Families. The majority of positives were for marijuana. 

The article also cited the ACLU saying Florida was the first state to enact such a law since Michigan attempted a similar law. That law, which went into effect in 1999, lasted five weeks after a judge blocked the law and the state ended up in a four-year battle in court before the law was declared unconstitutional by an appeals court.

I can’t see this Florida law becoming a permanent stain on the state government. It’s blatantly unfair and illegal to apply a sweeping brush to everyone seeking public assistance in the name of saving taxpayer dollars.

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