Gov. Scott signs welfare drug testing bill

TALLAHASSEE – People applying for welfare benefits must pay for drug testing under a bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Tuesday.

If they pass, they’ll be reimbursed for the cost of the test. If they don’t, they won’t receive temporary government assistance. Scott signed the bill in Panama City along with another measure that bans the designer drug MDPV, which is sold as bath salts.

The drug testing bill was a priority for Scott and an issue he campaigned on.

“While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction,” Scott said in a press release issued after the signing. “This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars.”

The law is expected to be quickly challenged. The Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union issued a release criticizing it and noting that a previous attempt to test welfare recipients for drugs in Michigan was ruled unconstitutional.

“The wasteful program created by this law subjects Floridians who are impacted by the economic downturn, as well as their families, to a humiliating search of their urine and body fluids without cause or even suspicion of drug abuse,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “Searching the bodily fluids of those in need of assistance is a scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound policy. Today, that unsound policy is Florida law.”

Florida was one of several states that took up the issue this year despite a similar Michigan law that was thrown off the books after a four-year legal battle. The 1999 law to randomly test welfare recipients was stopped after five weeks. An appeals court eventually ruled it unconstitutional.

The ACLU said it is looking into suing to challenge the law.

Scott also signed a bill that makes it illegal to possess MDPV sold as bath salts. Those convicted could face up to five years in prison. The drugs are being sold in malls, head shops, convenience stores and other retail outlets, often near displays of energy drinks. They can be snorted like cocaine, smoked or injected.

The drug has been likened to LSD and can produce hallucinations, severe paranoia, seizures, aggression, increased blood pressure and kidney failure.