Mandatory drug testing for needy Florida residents seeking government assistance is less than two weeks old but civil rights groups are stepping up their challenge of Gov. Rick Scott’s directive as unconstitutional.
A lawsuit to overturn the law is expected to be filed by civil liberties advocates. Effective July 1, drug screening is required for state residents who request Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds. The applicant is to pay for the drug screening. If no evidence of illicit drug use is found, the cost of the drug test will be reimbursed.
If the tests return positive results, however, money will be distributed only for a dependent child and only to a designated family member, who also is subject to drug screening. The law would cover an estimated 113,000 residents, according to state officials.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida is worried that the Department of Social Services will turn over positive drug tests to a child service agency—causing an investigation of child abuse. Howard Simon, the executive director of the ACLU said the governor’s executive order is sending a harsh message to low-income residents.
“What (Scott) is doing is giving ugly legitimacy to an unfortunate stereotype that has been in this country for a couple of decades – that all welfare recipients are a bunch of drug abusers,” he said.
The ACLU has not filed suit over the law but Simon said that it would continue to fight the legislation. “Don’t be surprised if we file a suit soon,” an ACLU spokesman told the AFRO on July 8.
The ACLU succeeded in winning a suit against a similar law in Michigan in 2003.
“This has to be stopped here,” Simon said. “There is a concerted attack on the personal freedoms of all Floridians.”
The group had previously sued to block implementation of a law to require drug screening of state employees resulting in Scott rescinding an executive order mandating employee screening in early June.
Jacksonville defense attorney Thomas Bell said the new law is based on the premise that all welfare recipients are on drugs.
“There’s no logical connection being in need of government assistance for your family and the presumption that you may have used drugs,” Bell told The Florida Times-Union. “Essentially, the effect of the law is to deter people from getting benefits, both the cost and the intrusion.”
Five Florida Democratic legislators issued a joint statement against the law and called it “downright unconstitutional.” Despite protests from state residents and lawmakers, Scott continued to defend the mandate and said it would provide “personal accountability and responsibility” for Florida, according to the Examiner.com.
“It’s the right thing for citizens of this state that need public assistance. We don’t want to waste tax dollars. And also, we want to give people an incentive to not use drugs,” Scott said, according to The Imperfect Parent.com.