ACLU sues over Florida’s requiring drug tests for welfare recipients

By September 7, 2011

From today’s Palm Beach Post.
This has become a controversial topic. What do you think? Is this a violation of the Fourth Amendment?
ACLU sues over Florida’s requiring drug tests for welfare recipients
By John Kennedy Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 2:23 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011
Florida’s new law requiring mandatory drug-testing of welfare recipients promotes “ugly stereotypes” and should be overturned as unconstitutional, the ACLU of Florida said Wednesday.
The ACLU filed a suit in Orlando on behalf of Luis Lebron, a 35-year-old Orlando man, Navy veteran and University of Central Florida student. Lebron and his four-year-old son were declared eligible for benefits through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but Lebron refused to take the required drug test and has not received aid.

Critics of the law said that in addition to being unconstitutional, it demeans Floridians in need of state assistance.
“It is a public policy that really rests on ugly stereotypes,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU.
Although many private employers require drug-testing of prospective workers before hiring, the ACLU maintains the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guards against unreasonable searches by the government. Some type of suspicion or public need, such as safety, must be proven before tests can be required without cause, the suit argues.
Florida’s new law took effect July 1. Since then, according to the state’s Department of Children and Families, 2.5 percent of applicants tested positive for drugs and were denied personal benefits, although family members still qualify. DCF Secretary David Wilkins, an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott, was named as defendant in the suit.
The only other state to implement a similar policy, Michigan, had its drug-testing law overturned in 2003 by a federal court.
The ACLU earlier this year sued Scott over his executive order requiring drug-testing of all new state hires and random screening of current state employees. Scott suspended the order in May for agencies other than the Department of Corrections, although he insisted the freeze would only be in place until that lawsuit was decided.
Scott, though, showed no signs Wednesday of backing away from the testing of Temporary Assistance recipients, which was approved this spring by the Republican-ruled Legislature in a mostly party-line vote.
“It’s important we make sure taxpayer money isn’t going to help pay for someone’s drug habit, but that the money is going to help the children for whom it was intended,” said Lane Wright, a Scott spokesman. “That’s what this law does. We’re confident we’re on solid legal ground.”
Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, who sponsored the legislation (CS/HB 353), also said he was offended by Simon’s characterization of the measure being rooted in stereotypes of those who need public aid.
“I’ve never been somebody looking out for large businesses,” said Smith, who worked as a security guard before his election last fall. “But there’s a lot more blue collar people who support this bill than are against it.”
Florida’s law requires that Temporary Assistance applicants pass a urine test for drug use before receiving aid. Applicants must pay for the test first — with fees of $30-$35 — and are to be reimbursed by the state when they pass.
A positive drug test eliminates an individual’s benefits for a year.
Critics point out that testing effectively shifts millions of taxpayer dollars from the state’s $211 million assistance program to drug-testing companies.
Lebron, the Orlando veteran named in the lawsuit, said the state is wrong to single-out those seeking benefits.
“I served my country. I’m in school finishing my education and trying to take care of my son,” Lebron said. “It’s insulting and degrading that people think I’m using drugs just because I need a little help.”