Florida to drug-test welfare recipients
Welfare recipients in Florida will now have to undergo screening for illegal drug use, a law Gov. Rick Scott says will “increase personal accountability and prevent Florida’s tax dollars from subsidizing drug addiction.” However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU of Florida) is threatening to sue to block the measure, saying it gives “ugly legitimacy” to stereotypes of welfare recipients.
Under the law, which takes effect on July 1, the Florida Department of Children and Family Services will be required to conduct the drug tests on adults applying for assistance. The aid recipients would be responsible for the cost of the screening, which they would recoup in their assistance if they qualify, and parents who fail the required drug test may designate another individual to receive the benefits on behalf of the children, according to Scott’s office. “While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction,” Governor Scott said.
However, ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon says the new law is a violation of personal privacy that humiliates welfare recipients without any evidence that they abuse drugs. Simon said in a statement that a federal judge in 2003 struck down a similar law in Michigan, ruling that forcing those applying for temporary welfare assistance to submit their bodily fluids for a government search violated their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. “Searching the bodily fluids of those in need of assistance is a scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound policy,” Simon said in the statement. “Today, that unsound policy is Florida law.”
Also, ACLU of Florida filed suit on May 31 to block Scott’s Executive Order 11-58 requiring drug testing for state employees. That lawsuit was filed on behalf of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Council 79, which represents 50,000 public workers who are now subject to the new drug-testing regime and Richard Flamm, a 17-year state employee and Research Scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission located at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg. “It is an unnecessary and costly invasion of the basic privacy and dignity of all state workers to force us to submit to tests of our bodily fluids with absolutely no just cause,” Flamm said in a statement. “For those of us who do our job well, it’s an affront to suggest we may be abusing drugs just because we work for the state.”
In addition, Scott signed House Bill 1039, which makes “bath salts” a Schedule 1 controlled substance, considered in Florida to have no medical value or usage. Poison control centers in Florida have reported 61 calls of “bath salts” abuse, making Florida the state with the second-highest volume of calls, according to Scott’s office. The hallucinogenic substances are readily available at convenience stores, discount tobacco outlets, gas stations, pawnshops, tattoo parlors, and truck stops, among other locations.