No Drug Testing for Welfare Applicants in Florida

A federal judge in Orlando, Florida has declared that the state’s law requiring welfare applicants to undergo mandatory drug testing is unconstitutional, according to a recent article by the New York Times. It is expected that this ruling will serve as the groundwork for other similar cases popping up across the nation.

Is the Law Constitutional?

In her decision, Judge Mary S. Scriven stated that the mandatory drug screens violated the principle of constitutional protection against unreasonable government searches. Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, had a large part in the original legislation on the issue. The Judge reasoned that under no circumstances could it be constitutional to enforce the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing that the law makes mandatory. The Judge had previously imposed a temporary ban on the law, and made it permanent through the ruling.

In their argument, the State said the testing was needed to protect children from drug using family members, and to make sure that the money given to welfare recipients was not being used to purchase illegal drugs. He voiced a zero-tolerance policy for drug use in families, especially those which require public assistance to help provide for and meet the needs of their children. The article reported that the State plans to appeal Judge Scriven’s ruling.

Does the Law Make Economic Sense?

Data showed that while the measure was in effect in Florida, it failed to produce promising results. Of the welfare recipients tested, only about 2.6 percent tested positively for illegal drugs in their system. Given these numbers, records showed that it would be more expensive to continue instituting the testing policy than the money the law was meant to save.

Many point to the economic status and financial distress of states across the nation as partial motivation for such testing measures being advocated by Republican legislators in order for citizens to receive welfare or unemployment assistance. The reality, however, is that any measure which requires individuals to submit to drug testing for the sole purpose of obtaining public assistance will most likely not be constitutional. In addition to being unfair and unreasonable, many opponents of such laws, including some Republicans, are against such measures because they are simply too costly and not effective in achieving the means the laws intend.

Alternate Strategies

The fight for additional regulations being imposed on recipients of public assistance is not over, however. Some say that the recent challenges to current laws will result in altered strategies for how to achieve the intended protections of drug testing in a way that is constitutional. In some states, this translates to moving away from advocating blanket screens, and only testing applicants for public assistance who appear to be drug users.

This is likely not the end of the road for this and similar issues. An attorney experienced in Florida law can help you understand how the law can affect your particular case. If you or someone you know suffered from an illegal government search, or requires legal counsel in applying for public assistance, contact us today for a consultation.