ACLU Florida Files Suit Over Drug Tests

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

Tallahassee, FL -- September 7, 2011 --

A new Florida law requiring applicants to pass drug tests before getting temporary cash assistance from the government amounts to unconstitutional suspicionless searches, the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday after filing a suit in federal court to shut the program down.

ACLU representatives, lawyers and a 35-year-old college student who refused to take the test said the new state requirement stigmatizes low-income recipients. The suit was filed late Tuesday in the federal district court in Orlando.

"The new law assumes that everyone who needs a little help has a drug problem," said Luis Lebron, a University of Central Florida accounting undergraduate who is the lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit. "It's wrong and unfair. It judges a whole group of people on their temporary economic situation."

As of July 1, new applicants for temporary government assistance through the program known as TANF, or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, were required to pay for a drug test. If the test comes back negative, the fee is repaid by the state. A positive test bars the applicant from receiving benefits for a year.

The ACLU lawsuit seeks to nullify the law. The group, which includes the Miami-based Florida Justice Institute, also filed a motion to stop the testing of recipients until the court rules on the constitutionality of the law.

A U.S. Navy veteran, Lebron is a single, custodial father who is scheduled to graduate in December. He was denied benefits when he refused to take the test, which costs between $25 and $45. Eight counties have yet to establish certified test sites.

Backers of the measure, including Gov. Rick Scott, say private businesses have been requiring such tests for years and government should be no different. A survey released Wednesday by the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association, a trade group for testing companies, found 57 percent of employers conduct drug tests on all job candidates.

"Its important we make sure taxpayer money isnt going to help pay for someones drug habit, but that the money is going to help the children for whom it was intended," Scott spokesman Lane Wright said Wednesday in an email. "Thats what this law does."

Wright said the federal government has allowed states to test for drugs, a sign that the courts will back Florida's plan.

Critics argue that recipients are being singled out based on a myth that poor people are more likely to use illegal drugs. They point out that other government programs such as student loans, food stamps and business grants do not require recipients to be screened for drug use.

So far, state says only 2 percent of recipients have tested positive for illegal drugs, a failure rate that is below that of the general population. A 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 8.7 percent of Americans age 12 and older reported using illicit drugs.

"It's an ugly public policy based on stereotypes and talking points," said Howard Simon, ACLU Florida, executive director. "We're not the only state to be trading in these ugly stereotypes and talking points, but we are the first state to enact the legislation."

The U.S. Supreme Court in a 1997 decision threw out a Georgia law requiring candidates for state office to certify they had passed a drug test. In 2000, a federal court in Michigan threw out that state's attempt to require all welfare recipients to be tested.

"Things that may be appropriate in the private sector are impermissible when done by government," Simon said.


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  • by Halie Location: IL on Sep 10, 2011 at 11:07 PM
    I am not for the outcome of this new law, but the idea of it is a good one. You all say that the people for this will never end up in this situation but my family doesn’t have a bunch on money. I worked my way through school with no help. If the guy who profited from this would take that money and make more jobs for people that would make some of you happy but he would still get rich that way to so some of you would still be upset. WAKE up people the rich aren’t going anywhere they are only going to get richer. The sooner you all relies this the better. That doesn’t mean I like all there chose’s but they are still people and they (in their own strange way while benefiting them self’s) are trying to make this a better country. THERE IS ONE BIG THING EVERYONE IS MIISING HEAR THOUGH…. IF NO ONE DID ELEGEL DRUGS THERE WOULD BE NO RESON TO DENIY THE TEST. THERE FOR YOU WOULD GET YOUR MONEY BACK AND GET YOUR WELLFAIR. I don’t know about the rest of you but I work too hard for some druggy to take all my take money that could go to better things! There are people out there who really do need that money for there family’s not there addictions!
  • by Grace Location: Tallahassee on Sep 9, 2011 at 04:38 AM
    Where does the All Criminals Love Us get their money from?
  • by Anonymous Location: nfla on Sep 8, 2011 at 05:21 PM
    I agree. Only healthy foods should be allowed and no cash back.
    • reply
      by Dee on Sep 9, 2011 at 04:37 AM in reply to
      Georgia has a good program - they issue vouchers that can be redeemed for a gallon of milk, $5.00 of fruit, beans etc. That way they can only buy healthy food and there isn't as much incentive to take advantage of the system.
  • by Leonard Location: tallahassee on Sep 8, 2011 at 11:07 AM
    So, the american criminal liberation unit has attempted to protect those involved in criminal activity
  • by Mary Location: Tally on Sep 8, 2011 at 09:44 AM
    Just semantics. It's not a search it' a P test. Jeez.
  • by Florida Girl on Sep 8, 2011 at 07:42 AM
    I don't have an issue with the testing however certain folks that voted this in should not be able to profit from it. Also I know an entire family on disability but in reality their disability is because they just don't like working. They have the whole process down about complaining on non specific pain complaints and lots of tests we all pay for so they can qualify to not work
  • by DTH Location: Tallahassee on Sep 8, 2011 at 07:41 AM
    I wonder how many of the staff at the ACLU would PASS the Drug Test?
    • reply
      by Sober on Sep 8, 2011 at 11:09 AM in reply to DTH
      There ought to be a Kool-Aid test for the Tea-liban like you.
      • reply
        by Mike on Sep 9, 2011 at 03:51 AM in reply to Sober
        Hey sober....hiccup..
  • by Card carrying member on Sep 8, 2011 at 06:04 AM
    There sure are a lot of Nazi sympathizers blogging here. Most of them don't realize that the ACLU protects the rights of all American citizens, including the right of fascists and racists to spew their drivel so long as it's done peaceably. btw, we taxpayers are paying for the tests for the 98% that pass. Do you know what testing companies are profiting from this?
    • reply
      by FedupinTally on Sep 8, 2011 at 09:54 AM in reply to Card carrying member
      I do. And do you know that your illustrious Governor's wife owns a bunch of these drug testing sites?
    • reply
      by ACLU IS A WASTE on Sep 9, 2011 at 03:53 AM in reply to Card carrying member
      They used to protect rights..now they take then away from people because of a cople of looney tunes that doesn't agree with the majority. As far as tesing companies profiting from it, think about it. it created jobs.
      • reply
        by No jobs. on Sep 9, 2011 at 01:40 PM in reply to ACLU IS A WASTE
        It actually didn't create jobs, all it did was make a rich man and his wife even more wealthy. They didn't go and open up a whole bunch of testing facilities to handle the influx of testees, they simply gave the contract to the Governor's wife, who already has the facilities, so they could roll in the dough.
        • reply
          by ACLU IS A WASTE on Sep 11, 2011 at 03:43 PM in reply to No jobs.
          I guess the person sticking you with a needle is doing a job. What do you call it?
  • by J Location: S on Sep 8, 2011 at 05:53 AM
    Beggars can't be choosers!!! If you can't play by the simple rules then don't ask for the money. Suck it up buttercup! People in this country are tired of your kind!
  • by FedupinTally on Sep 8, 2011 at 05:37 AM
    Yes, these people have to pay for the drug test up front, however, if they come up clean, they get that money back on their first food stamp allowance. If they fail the test, they are SOL. Can't be more fair than that.
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