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Florida welfare drug testing program struck down by federal appeals court

By David Ferguson
Tuesday, February 26, 2013 15:27 EDT
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Doctor with urine sample via Shutterstock
 
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Republican-led efforts to drug test all recipients of public assistance were dealt a possible death blow Tuesday by a federal appeals court when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Florida’s controversial 2011 law requiring all welfare recipients and applicants to undergo drug testing. According to the Colorlines blog, the court’s decision also undermines a nearly identical law proposed by Georgia’s Gov. Nathan Deal (R).

The 11th Circuit Court voted unanimously to uphold the 2011 decision by an Orlando, FL court that the tests violate the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizures.

Republicans across the country have sponsored these types of bills in state legislatures, purportedly to protect children from being raised by drug-addicted parents and to stem the tide of drug use among the poor and unemployed. Aside from the testing being unconstitutional, however, that rising tide of poor and unemployed people using drugs has turned out not to exist.

During its brief life as an actively enforced law, less than 2 percent of the people who took the tests failed them. Rather than saving Florida money from its public assistance coffers, the 40 drug tests that were administered ended up costing the state $1,140. Two tests came up positive and one of those results was reversed on appeal, saving the state a total of approximately $120 for that month.

Georgia has waited for the 11th Circuit Court’s decision before implementing Gov. Deal’s program. The court has jurisdiction over Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Critics of the drug testing laws say that the court has sent a signal that Georgia’s law would not survive a court challenge.

Gerry Weber, an attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights, a group that planned to fight the Georgia law in court, said, “We are grateful to the Court for their ruling today that essentially renders Georgia’s law dead in the water.”

Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute and co-counsel with the ACLU said in a statement, ”The Court today affirmed that the Fourth Amendment protects everyone, including those who need temporary assistance from the government. Requiring suspicionless drug testing of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients is a slippery slope toward requiring drug testing for the receipt of any kind of government benefit, including social security, farm subsidies, and student scholarships. The line must be drawn, and the 11th Circuit did so today.”

[image via Shutterstock]

 

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
 
 
 
 
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