Florida Gov. Rick Scott Takes Welfare Drug Testing Battle To Supreme Court

By McCarton Ackerman 01/17/14

Despite it being struck down by an appeals court judge, the unpopular governor remains determined to push a questionable program that wastes more money than it saves.

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott is taking the battle to drug test welfare recipients in his state all the way to the Supreme Court. He is asking the high court to rule on the constitutionality of his policy after an appeals judge banned the practice last month by deeming it unconstitutional. Lawyers for the unpopular governor filed the petition earlier this week, arguing that Florida has an “overriding interest in a drug-free workforce” and that illegal drug use “increases financial costs, creates safety hazards, and impairs productivity."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is prepared to defend the current ruling, arguing that government drug tests violate the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. ACLU of Florida attorney Shalini Goel Agarwal said in a statement "that the state has no authority to require people to submit their bodily fluids for government inspection and approval without reason or suspicion.”

Last month, Judge Mary S. Scriven struck down the mandatory welfare drug testing and said there is "no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied." Scott expressed disappointment in the ruling afterwards, declaring in a statement that “we should have a zero-tolerance policy for illegal drug use in families – especially those families who struggle to make ends meet and need welfare assistance to provide for their children.”

Statistics from April 2012 showed that 4,086 welfare applicants were tested in the state, but only 108 (2.6%) yielded a positive result. Furthermore, the tests actually cost the state $45,780 because reimbursing the costs of the tests to welfare applicants who tested negative outweighed what the government would have disbursed to people who failed.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.