The above photo shows the positive results of the number 8 Duquenois reagent presumptive drug test when used with a sample of Afghan Hashish.
Florida's law that welfare applicants must pass a drug test is being challenged by the ACLU on Fourth Amendment grounds. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Jack Spades/Flickr)

Despite the objections of Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. District Court Judge Mary Scriven has temporarily blocked a Florida law that requires those who apply for welfare to submit to drug testing. A temporary injunction was issued Oct. 24 against the enforcement of what critics have called “suspicionless drug testing.” The drug testing law, of which Scott was a staunch supporter, went into effect July 1.

ACLU sues Florida

The Miami Herald reports that an Orlando single dad named Luis Lebron and the American Civil Liberties Union contend in a lawsuit against the state that Scott’s welfare drug testing law is unconstitutional, violating Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

“Perhaps no greater public interest exists than protecting a citizen’s rights under the Constitution,” wrote Scriven in her ruling, quoting a case in Hawaii from 1997.

Drug testing law requirements

Florida’s welfare drug testing law, which Scott views as a safeguard for “personal responsibility,” requires that the Florida Department of Children and Family services drug test all adults who apply for federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. Applicants must pay for the drug screening, but they are compensated via TANF if they qualify for the aid.

Applicants who fail the drug test may name another person to receive benefits on behalf of their own children.

Michigan attempted to pass a law similar to Florida’s in 2003, but the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down due to violations of the Fourth Amendment. Florida is the only state to have passed such a law.

Luis Lebron refused testing, was denied aid

A Navy veteran, Luis Lebron is an unemployed adult college student who cares for his 4-year-old son and his mother, who is disabled. He was denied TANF assistance because he refused on constitutional grounds to submit to a drug test. He has stated that he has never used illicit drugs.

Lebron and the ACLU wanted to make the lawsuit a class action against the State of Florida, but Judge Scriven denied the request. However, Florida ACLU attorney Maria Kayanan remains optimistic.

“I’m delighted for our client and delighted to have confirmation that all of us remain protected from unreasonable, suspicionless government searches and seizures,” said Kayanan in a statement.

Conflicting study interpretation

While Gov. Scott cited a state study that shows that higher drug use occurs among those receiving government assistance, the ACLU pointed out that Scott may have been reading a faulty study. Reports indicate that of the 2,000-person sample of tested welfare applicants, only a small percent tested positive.

“It shows that a little bit more than 2 percent of the welfare applicants tested positive for drugs where it’s about 8½ percent in the general public,” said ACLU Florida Executive Director Howard Simon.

Welfare drug testing in Florida and the constitutional debate

Sources

CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/25/us/florida-welfare-drug-tests/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

The Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/18805970

Miami Herald: http://bit.ly/slYoq5

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