Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) signed legislation into law on Tuesday that requires anyone applying for temporary government assistance to pay for and undergo drug screening.
Under the new law, applicants for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program who test positive for illegal drug use won’t be eligible to receive benefits for one year or until they successfully complete a drug abuse program. Those who don’t test positive will be reimbursed for the cost of the test.
Around 60,000 people would be affected, according to earlier reports.
“While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction,” Scott said in a statement. “This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars.”
In March, 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.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the drug testing of welfare recipients is likely unconstitutional and fiscally irresponsible. A Michigan law that required welfare recipients to receive random drug testing was struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 2003. The average cost of a drug test is about $42 per person tested, not including other costs associated with administering the tests.
Additionally, a 1996 study conducted by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that welfare recipients were no more likely to use illegal drugs than the rest of the U.S. population.
“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,” Howard Simon, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said in a statement.
“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.”
The Florida House passed the bill in April and the Senate approved it early May. Both chambers of the Florida Legislature have a veto-proof Republican majority.
Critics of random drug screenings say they tend to encourage use of substances that flush through the bloodstream quickly — like cocaine or heroin — as opposed to safer alternatives like marijuana that remains detectable for two weeks or longer.
With prior reporting by Stephen C. Webster