Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Judge Blocks Florida Law Requiring Welfare Recipients To Drug Test

Michael Peltier wrote the following for Reuters:
A judge on Monday halted a new Florida law that requires low-income parents seeking federal cash assistance to pass a drug test before receiving any money.

In a 37-page ruling in Orlando, District Court Judge Mary Scriven granted an injunction barring the state from enforcing the new law until the case is resolved.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sued on behalf of a University of Central Florida student who refused to take the drug test when he applied for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, a federal program that provides cash assistance to families with children.

The ACLU argued that the drug tests are unconstitutional in other situations.

In her ruling, Scriven said the testing procedure could cause irreparable harm to recipients, who are required to pay for the tests and are barred from collecting benefits for at least six months if they fail.

The ACLU has a good chance of prevailing in its lawsuit, she said.

Plaintiff Luis Lebron, a single father and military veteran who plans to graduate in December with an accounting degree, was denied benefits when he refused to submit to a drug test, a requirement that Florida lawmakers approved earlier this year.

The law requires applicants for the funding to pay for and pass a urine test for illegal drugs, which costs between $25 and $45. Applicants who pass the test are reimbursed.

So far, the state says only 2 percent of applicants have tested positive for illegal drugs, a failure rate that is below that of the general population. A 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 8.7 percent of Americans age 12 and older reported using illicit drugs.

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 1997 decision threw out a Georgia law requiring candidates for state office to certify they had passed a drug test. Since then, a federal court in Michigan threw out that state's attempt to require all welfare recipients to be tested.
This is yet another instance where Republicans in the state of Florida have overreached - the Florida Supreme Court had ruled that Governor Rick Scott had "overstepped his constitutional authority and violated the separation of powers" when he issued an executive order preventing all pending rules from taking affect until he could review them.

There was nothing right about this law.  To begin with, it was ethically questionable when Scott proposed this law considering he placed his company of small clinics in a revocable trust to his wife to skirt around ethics requirements.  Then there was the issue that laws similar to this one were struck down by federal courts in the past essentially dooming the Florida law from the start and on top of all that, a simple cost analysis of the law would have revealed that the costs of drug testing every welfare recipient would far outweigh the percentage of those who fail the test, are required to pay for the test, and are denied benefits for a certain period of time.

This law is very telling - in the face of the facts that this law would potentially infringe on personal liberties, cause harm to those affected, and was not fiscally sound, Republicans championed this law.  Aren't they the ones who claim to be all for personal liberties and fiscal conservatism?

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