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Federal Judge Throws Out Florida Welfare Drug Test Law

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drug test testing welfareBy Phillip Smith

In a ruling out of Orlando Tuesday, US District Court Judge Mary Scriven permanently halted enforcement of Florida’s suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants and recipients. The 2011 law had been in abeyance since a preliminary injunction was issued against it earlier.

“There is nothing inherent in the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a concrete danger that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use,” Scriven wrote in her opinion in Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families. She found that “there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.”

The law required anyone applying for welfare benefits to undergo a drug test without any particularized suspicion that he or she was using drugs. The federal courts have been loath to okay suspicionless drug testing, with a few notable exceptions for workers in public safety positions and some school kids.

Luis Lebron, the plaintiff in the case, who is also the sole caretaker of his disabled mother, was a 35-year-old full-time student at the University of Central Florida when he applied for temporary assistance in July 2011, to support his then 4-year-old son. When informed that he would be subjected to a humiliating and invasive search without cause or suspicion, Lebron refused to waive his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure by submitting to the newly-required drug test.

“I’m really pleased with the court’s decision,” said Lebron. “This confirms what I believed all along — that what the government was asking people like me and my family to do was wrong. I’m proud that standing up against that is going to make a difference for other families like mine.”

“This is a victory not just for Luis and his family, but for all Floridians who would have been forced to submit to invasive and humiliating searches of their bodily fluids just because they need temporary help making ends meet,” stated Maria Kayanan, Associate Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida and lead attorney on the case. “In reconfirming that the Fourth Amendment protects all of us, regardless of wealth or status, Judge Scriven’s decision soundly rejects the notion that the government can treat an entire class of Floridians like suspected criminals simply for being poor. We are thrilled to ring in the New Year with the Court’s opinion.”

“The Court today affirmed that the 4th Amendment protects everyone, including those who need temporary assistance from the government,” stated Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute and co-counsel with the ACLU. “Requiring suspicionless drug testing of 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. A clear line must be drawn, and the court did so today.”

Gov. Rick Scott (R) said he would appeal the decision.

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