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Florida Welfare Drug Testing Bill Signed Into Law

Florida welfare applicants and recipients, mostly women with children, will now have to undergo drug tests at their own expense to receive cash benefits after Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law a drug testing bill, HB 353, that passed the state legislature earlier this month. Scott also signed HB 1039, a law banning "bath salts," or new synthetic stimulant drugs.

Gov. Rick Scott (R) scores political points on the backs of the poor. (Image courtesy state of Florida)
More than 21,000 Floridians receiving benefits as heads of households will have to pay for and take the drug tests, as well as any new applicants. If they pass the drug test, they will be reimbursed for the cost. If they fail the drug test, they become ineligible to receive benefits for one year or until successfully completing drug treatment. Children of heads of household who test positive would still be eligible to receive benefits through a designated third party.

Scott and the Republican-controlled legislature argued that the law is necessary to stop welfare recipients from using the money to buy drugs. But opponents cited studies demonstrating that drug use is no more common among welfare recipients than among the general public.

"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. "This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars."

The ACLU of Florida was quick to attack the new law. It noted that the only other state law mandating suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients -- one in Michigan -- was overturned by the federal courts in 2003 for violating the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unwarranted searches and seizures.

"Once again, this governor has demonstrated his dismissal of both the law and the right of Floridians to personal privacy by signing into law a bill that treats those who have lost their jobs like suspected criminals," said ACLU of Florida head Howard Simon in a statement Tuesday. "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."

Citing the Michigan decision, Simon continued: "Surely the governor knew this, and the ACLU testified in the legislature that the bill was a significant and unnecessary invasion of privacy. The new law rests on an ugly stereotype that was disproven by the state's own earlier experimental drug-testing program," he said. "Nevertheless, their zeal to score political points on the backs of Florida's poor once again overrode their duty to uphold the Constitution. 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."

Wednesday the ACLU of Florida announced it was filing suit against the governor over an executive order he issued earlier this year requiring suspicionless drug testing of state employees. At the same time, it promises an announcement soon about how it plans to respond to the welfare drug testing law. 

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Missouri Welfare Drug Test Bill Heads for Governor's Desk

A Missouri bill that mandates the drug testing of welfare recipients and applicants if case workers have "reasonable suspicion" they are using illegal drugs has passed out of the legislature and is now headed for the governor's desk. It passed the House Tuesday on a vote of 113-34. It had passed the Senate last month.

If you're on welfare in Missouri and the state suspects you use drugs, you will have to provide this. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The bill, House Bill 73, also known as the "TANF Child Protection and Drug Free Home Act," requires Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) case managers to report to the Children's Division if an applicant or recipient tested positive or refused to take a drug test related to employment or employment training. Caseworkers would also have to report to the division if they have "reasonable suspicion to believe that such individual is engaging in illegal use of a controlled substance."

Failure to take or pass a drug test would make the recipient ineligible for TANF benefits for two years. But people who fail the test could enroll in a drug treatment program, and benefits would continue during treatment. If the person completes treatment and doesn't test positive, the benefits would continue. A second positive drug test would make the person ineligible for benefits for two years, with no provision for a treatment escape clause. Family members of someone declared ineligible because of drug use could continue to receive benefits through a third-party payee.

Foes of the bill argued that the bill was possibly unconstitutional -- although its use of a "reasonable suspicion" standard may make that argument more difficult -- that the program will be costly, and that it's an attack on society's most vulnerable.

The bill "targets low-income individuals, particularly women with children, said Pat Dougherty of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. "We have women who come to our program and who are successful, who are getting their lives back together, who are trying to get straight, and yet, you've got a penalty there," he told KMOX News Radio last month.

Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal (D-St. Louis County) said she was concerned about the costs connected with the drug tests. Legislative analysts in Missouri estimated the program would cost up to $2.3 million.

"In Florida, they did about 9,000 tests and spent more than $3 million, while only 36 people were convicted," Chapelle-Nadal said.

But now, the Show Me State's Republicans get to look tough if not necessarily fiscally smart.

Columbia, MO
United States

Florida Legislature Passes Welfare Drug Test Bill

A bill requiring Florida welfare recipients to undergo drug tests passed the state Senate last Thursday. A similar measure has already passed the House. The bill was supported by Gov. Rick Scott (R), who is expected to sign it into law shortly.

(image via Wikimedia.org)
"It’s fair to taxpayers," Scott said after the vote. "They're paying the bill. And they're often drug screened for their jobs. On top of that, it's good for families. It creates another reason why people will think again before using drugs, which as you know is just a significant issue in our state."

Scott has already signed an executive order mandating drug tests for state workers. But Republican senators this week fended off bipartisan amendments that would have imposed drug tests for anyone working for a company that receives public funds and schoolchildren in the Bright Futures program. Those amendments were designed to sabotage the bill by spreading the net uncomfortably wide.

If Scott signs the bill into law, it is almost certain to face a constitutional challenge, and the challengers would have a strong case. The only other state to pass a suspicionless drug testing bill for welfare recipients, Michigan, saw its law thrown out by a federal appeals court in 2003 as an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against warrantless searches. Arizona has a welfare drug testing law, but that law requires probable cause before a drug test can be demanded.

The bill, House Bill 353, requires all adult applicants for or existing recipients of federal cash benefits -- the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program -- to undergo drug testing at their own expense. If they pass the drug test, the cost of the test is reimbursed by the state. The tests would screen for all controlled substances and recipients would have to disclose any legal prescriptions they have.

If recipients test positive, they lose their benefits for a year. If they fail a second test, they lose their benefits for three years. Children whose parents lose their benefits could still receive benefits if another adult is designated the payee on their behalf.

The bill is set to go into effect July 1, provided Gov. Scott actually signs it and no legal challenge has been filed by that date.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Florida Welfare Drug Testing Bills Advance

Bills that would require new applicants for temporary welfare assistance to undergo suspicionless drug tests -- and pay for them themselves -- are advancing in the Florida legislature. On April 13, House Bill 353 passed the House Health and Human Services Committee. That same day, the Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 556, won approval from Senate budget subcommittee. Both votes were party-line votes in the Republican dominated legislature.

Welfare recipients are the latest targets of Florida politicos. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
Under the legislation, applicants who fail a drug test would be barred from receiving cash assistance for one year. Failing a second drug test, would mean a three-year ban. Children of rejected applicants could receive benefits if they can find another adult who can pass the drug test to be a payee.

Republicans voting for the bills argued that since many taxpayers must endure drug testing on the job, it was only fair that welfare recipients be tested as well. They also argued drug testing would provide an incentive for drug abusers to seek treatment.

Democrats and their supporters retorted that suspicionless drug testing would likely be found unconstitutional. They also argued that it would be unfair to force people seeking assistance because they're poor to pay the estimated $35 cost of the drug test.

"We believe it is not quite reasonable to expect folks who are applying for temporary assistance to undergo drug testing that they must pay for," said Michael Sheedy of the Florida Catholic Conference, who testified against the bill.

"It may seem a little onerous telling folks they need to get drug tested," conceded Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah). "But at the end of the day, I want to help people who want to help themselves."

"We're heading into a court challenge with this," warned Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood).

The only state to pass a suspicionless welfare drug testing ban was Michigan, but that law was struck down by a federal appeals court in 2002. The court held that testing without particularized suspicion violates privacy rights and the Fourth Amendment's protection against unwarranted searches.

That hasn't stopped drug testing bills aimed at welfare recipients, unemployment seekers, or other convenient scapegoats from being a perennial favorite of pandering politicians. Although no state has passed a bill since the 2002 court decision, bills have been filed in at least 16 states this year.

The House bill now awaits a floor vote, while the Senate bill goes before the Budget Committee Friday, and then, if approved, on to a floor vote.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Florida Political Action Committee Protests Gov. Rick Scott's New Drug Testing Policy by Sending Him Urine

Location: 
FL
United States
Last month, Gov. Scott signed an executive order allowing random drug testing of state employees and a bill is currently working its way through Florida's legislature that would require welfare and food stamp recipients to undergo drug testing. The Committee for the Positive Insistence on a Sane Society, or PISS, is calling the smelly "gift" a peaceful protest. "In one breath our CEO professes to be focusing on cutting wasteful government spending and laying off tens of thousands of state employees, while at the same time he announces a program to drug test state employees without any legitimate basis for such an invasion of privacy," a PISS press release stated.
Publication/Source: 
NBC
URL: 
http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/Key-West-Pissed-Off-at-Gov-Send-Him-Urine-119205199.html

Florida Governor Orders State Employee Drug Testing

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) Tuesday issued an executive order Tuesday requiring that current state employees submit to random drug tests and that applicants for state jobs undergo pre-hiring drug tests. The order will go into effect in 60 days for current employees and immediately for new hires, but it certain to be challenged in court.

Rick Scott
The executive order came as the state legislature grapples with a bill that would require people who apply for state welfare benefits to submit to a drug test -- and pay for it themselves -- before receiving them. That bill, Senate Bill 556, is supported by Gov. Scott and passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday.

"Floridians deserve to know that those in public service, whose salaries are paid with taxpayer dollars, are part of a drug-free workplace," Scott said. "Just as it is appropriate to screen those seeking taxpayer assistance, it is also appropriate to screen government employees."

The bill applies only to workers in executive agencies that answer to the governor. Legislators and their staffs would be exempt.

State law already allows for, but does not require, pre-employment drug testing of applicants for jobs at state agencies under the Florida Drug-Free Workplace Act. But the random drug testing of both state employees and welfare recipients is likely to run up against the US Constitution.

Federal courts have generally found that random testing of government workers who aren't in jobs that affect public safety amounts to a "search" by the government. Such searches must be "reasonable," generally, and some courts have interpreted such requirements of ordinary government workers as a violation of the US Constitution's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. A Michigan law requiring drug testing of welfare recipients was thrown out by the federal courts in 2003.

The ACLU of Florida attacked Scott's order, saying that a federal court had in 2004 already ruled that the state was violating the Fourth Amendment when the Department of Juvenile Justice instituted a random drug testing program. In that case, a US district judge ordered the agency to halt random drug testing and pay the worker who sued $150,000.

"I'm not sure why Gov. Scott does not know that the policy he recreated by executive order today has already been declared unconstitutional," ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said in a statement. "The state of Florida cannot force people to surrender their constitutional rights in order to work for the state. Absent any evidence of illegal drug use, or assigned a safety-sensitive job, people have a right to be left alone."

While Gov. Scott is coming off as a hard-liner when it comes to drug testing poor people and state workers, he has also zeroed out the state drug czar's office and blocked the state from beginning a prescription drug tracking plan. But then, as the saying goes, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Study: Welfare Drug Tests Not Cost Effective

Location: 
ID
United States
A study conducted in Idaho concluded the cost of mandatory drug testing of public assistance recipients would exceed any savings from booting offenders from programs. Republican lawmakers demanded the study last March, saying their constituents considered it unfair that some Idahoans are drug-tested by their employers while those on public assistance are not.
Publication/Source: 
New England Cable News (MA)
URL: 
http://www.necn.com/02/11/11/Study-Welfare-drug-tests-not-cost-effect/landing_politics.html?&blockID=3&apID=7652298022f14bdd98aad62177421918

South Dakota House Rejects Drug Tests for Welfare Recipients

Location: 
SD
United States
The South Dakota House rejected a bill that would have forced drug tests on welfare recipients to determine their eligibility. The measure failed on a vote of 32-36 after opponents said it would be impractical and would provide little help to children in poor families.
Publication/Source: 
KCAU (IA)
URL: 
http://www.kcautv.com/Global/story.asp?S=13986224

Iowa Legislative Panel Rejects Plan Linking Welfare to Drug Tests

Location: 
IA
United States
A legislative panel has rejected a proposal to require people to pass a drug test before being eligible for state welfare benefits. Republican Rep. Matt Windschitl, of Missouri Valley, had proposed the requirement, but a subcommittee blocked the bill because of questions about how it would be implemented.
Publication/Source: 
Sioux City Journal (IA)
URL: 
http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/news/state-and-regional/iowa/article_c262d876-2f07-11e0-a203-001cc4c002e0.html

Welfare Drug Testing Bills Filed in Virginia

Add Virginia to the list of states where lawmakers are seeking to impose drug testing requirements on recipients of public assistance. One bill would direct state officials to assess the cost and benefits of drug testing welfare recipients, while another would require drug screening of participants in the Virginia Initiative for Employment not Welfare (VIEW), the commonwealth's welfare-to-work program.

Virginia Capitol
A bill filed by Del. Danny Marshall (R-Danville), HJ 616, calls on the state's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to review the cost and benefits of drug testing people on the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

A bill filed by state Sen. Roscoe Reynolds (D-Ridgeway), SB 781, would require local social service departments to screen each participant in the state's welfare-to-work program to determine if there is probable cause to believe the participants is using illegal drugs. If there is probable cause to suspect drug use, the participant would be subject to a formal substance abuse assessment, which could include drug testing. People who test positive or who refuse to participate in the screening or assessment would be ineligible for TANF payments for a year.

Marshall told the Martinsville Bulletin area employers complained that "they can't find people who are drug-free to hire" and that his bill is intended to be a first step toward his goal of a "drug-free Virginia." Under his bill, he said, TANF recipients who fail drug tests "would go through the process to get them clean... so they can become productive members of society."

Welfare or unemployment drug testing bills, a perennial favorite of posturing politicians, have been introduced in at least five states this year. But that's really nothing new. They are introduced in a handful of states each year, but no state has passed such a bill since Michigan did so in 1998. That bill was found unconstitutional by the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003.

Richmond, VA
United States

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