Florida Senate panel approves plan to drug test welfare recipients

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, March 24, 2011 15:02 EDT
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A bill to mandate drug tests for welfare recipients was unanimously approved by a Florida Senate panel earlier this week, putting the proposal one step closer to coming up for a full Senate vote of approval.

The legislation, S.B. 556, would also require that welfare applicants pay for their own drug test before they can be approved for any state assistance.

As draconian as that sounds, it enjoys solid support by the state’s Republicans and recently-elected GOP Governor Rick Scott. It was proposed by Republican Sen. Paula Dockery “on Scott’s behalf,” according to The Miami Herald.

The Herald added that the law, if passed, would affect about 58,000 people state-wide.

Dovetailing on the bill’s progress through the Senate committee on Tuesday, Scott also issued an executive order requiring that all state employees be subjected to urine analysis once every quarter, with random screenings throughout.

The order is expected to cost Florida taxpayers over $3.5 million, with individual drug tests coming in around $35 each. It takes effect in May.

The mandate for state employee drug screening is likely to face a legal challenge against part or all of it. That’s thanks to a 2004 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, who found Florida’s Dept. of Juvenile Justice in violation of the Fourth Amendment when it required random drug screenings for its employees.

A Scott spokesman told The Orlando Sentinel that the order was motivated by a desire to create “a better, healthier, more productive workforce.”

Critics of random drug screenings say they tend to encourage drug users to use substances that flush through their system quickly, like cocaine or heroine, as opposed to safer alternatives like marijuana that remains detectable for up to two weeks or longer.

The Florida legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, was largely expected to support the governor on mandating the tests, both for government employees and welfare applicants.

The complete text of S.B. 556 was available online (PDF).

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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