ACLU challenges Scott’s drug testing law
Published: Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 01:09
A lawsuit filed on Sept. 6 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), could prevent welfare recipients from being subject to urinalysis drug tests.
In March, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law two provisions: one that mandates the drug testing of all welfare recipients seeking cash assistance and one that mandates all public employees be tested — including USF employees.
However, the ACLU holds that the mandatory tests violate Floridians' constitutional rights.
Derek Newton, communications director with the ACLU, said the union warned the Legislature as they were drafting the laws that they may violate the Fourth Amendment that protects citizens from "searches and seizures."
"If this was not challenged, the state government would routinely be violating people's constitutional rights," he said. "We informed the Legislature when they were considering these policies that the law was, in all likelihood, unconstitutional and there were a number of other problems with it. We reviewed it after it had gone into effect, and it took some time for us to find the right plaintiff to sue the state."
The tests have come at an expense to the state as well.
According to the Tampa Tribune, only 2 percent of drug tests administered to welfare recipients came back positive. Each test costs $30, and for each negative test, the government is required to reimburse the person tested. The Tribune estimated monthly reimbursement fees to cost around $28,800 to $43,200.
USF College Democrats President Luis Silva, a senior majoring in political science, said the policy is one that hurts taxpayers, rather than protects them.
"I am worried about the taxpayer," he said. "We're actually wasting more money by having all these tests done. We, as taxpayers, are paying for all the analysis and Gov. Scott is telling us he's cutting funding for things like education, and I think that's completely ludicrous."
Cherry Alexander has worked as a custodian at USF for the past five years.
"I don't like the idea (of mandatory drug testing)," she said. "It was never done before. Why do they want to start now?"
Scott's press secretary, Lane Wright, said Scott has "full confidence" he is on "solid legal ground."
"The idea behind this law is that the governor does not feel it's fair to expect taxpayers to foot the bill for somebody's drug habits," he said. "The other part of it is that by drug testing those who do receive cash assistance, we make sure the cash goes to the children (of the recipients) — that's who it's intended for."
Silva said the policy perpetuates negative stereotypes about welfare recipients in general.
"It so happens that minorities happens to be a large percentage of these people who seek welfare assistance, not to mention that it perpetuates the stereotype that all welfare recipients are on drugs," he said. "It's a complete waste of money and is dehumanizing people."
Sean Haughton, a custodian at the University, said he has no qualms with the testing.
"I don't have a problem," he said. "I was surprised when I started (at USF) they didn't have it."
USF College Republicans President Russell Romeo, a senior majoring in political science and history said the test is "fair."
"I think all those people getting my tax dollars need to be held accountable for their actions," he said. "I don't think (welfare recipients) should be getting tax dollars if they're going to spend it on drugs. If you're going to get state assistance, why shouldn't you be drug-free?"
Romeo said the test "comes with the territory" of signing up for welfare assistance.
"I don't think it's unconstitutional," he said. "The people are going and signing up for welfare and the expectation is that you're accepting that the government will be coming into your life."
In addition to last week's suit, a lawsuit was filed in early June against Scott's mandate to test public employees. Though the reasoning behind that policy was slightly different, Wright said it was also in the best interest of the taxpayer.
"We want to make sure taxpayers are getting the most out of their tax dollars by having a workforce that is drug-free," he said. "To put it in perspective, any (private) employee can drug test their employees. If a private business has the right to drug test their employees, the state, as an employer, should have the same right."
Newton said the legal case against Scott's law for all public employees to receive drug tests is still proceeding, but no decision has been made yet.