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Florida Strikes Down Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients: Will Other States Follow?

Florida Strikes Down Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients: Will Other States Follow?

The state of Florida led the way when it came to forcing welfare recipients to undergo mandatory drug testing before they could receive their benefits, even making them pay for their testing out of their own pockets. The requirement was found unconstitutional in 2011 but remained tied up in courts. Now, a federal judge has permanently ruled that drug testing is a violation of protection against unreasonable searches.

“The court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied,” said Judge Mary S. Scriven of the United States District Court in Orlando, the same judge who blocked the requirement in 2011.

Even though the Florida rule had been tied up for years in legal wrangling and only spent a few months actually being enforced, a number of states decided that drug testing for different forms of public benefits was a fantastic idea. This is despite the fact that while the program was in effect, Florida saw very few fails, spending far more money on testing recipients than it ever saved in denied benefits.

Despite the implementation during a massive recession and a surge of Tea Party politicians claiming they wanted to cut unnecessary government spending, proponents of the program came up with a myriad of reasons for supporting the wasted funds, ranging from “protecting children” to “compassionately” forcing people out of “a cycle of poverty.”

Republican Governor Rick Scott is still sticking to his “for the children” talking point, even as the courts shut him down. “Any illegal drug use in a family is harmful and even abusive to a child. 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,” Scott said in a statement, according to Talking Points Memo. “We will continue to fight for Florida children who deserve to live in drug-free homes by appealing this judge’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals.”

As other states attempt to drug test their own welfare recipients, however, they are learning the same lesson as Florida: those who are using public programs actually use drugs at a lesser rate than the general population. That’s the conclusion Minnesota has drawn as their own drug testing law went into effect.

The Minnesota law sneaked in under the radar, attached as a rider to the massive 2012 Health and Human Services budget omnibus bill. Most state voters, and even those who do advocacy work on behalf of low income residents, had no idea that it was even added to the final bill. But a recent investigation revealed that the state was now requiring random mandatory drug testing of any welfare recipient who had a previous felony drug conviction. Interestingly, that was only 0.4 percent of all people receiving public subsidies, as opposed to 1.2 percent of the adult population of the state in the general population who had been convicted, according to the Star Tribune.

“I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that this is about saving taxpayers money,” said Heidi Welsch, director of family support and assistance for Olmsted County told the newspaper. “This is punitive.”

Punitive is right, and it’s punitive in every state that has passed this sort of law, whether it is for welfare benefits, unemployment aid or other reasons.

With the federal court now permanently striking down the Florida law, hopefully we can begin to get this stricken from the books in the other states where it has spread.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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232 comments

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1:10AM PST on Jan 16, 2014

This tests cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and less than 10 people failed them. A complete waste of time and money.

8:12AM PST on Jan 11, 2014

they're finally doing the right thing. yay for the court ruling. I don't believe this tactic was to track drug usage; rather, only to browbeat the poor and try to disenfranchise them more

10:04PM PST on Jan 8, 2014

Good. It is a huge waste of money.

6:12PM PST on Jan 8, 2014

Legalizing AND regulating…….you missed the regulating. Butt keeeping the price lower than drug gangs charge. Prohibition doesnt work. We have a history proving so.

6:10PM PST on Jan 8, 2014

WE could only hope that were true.

12:53PM PST on Jan 8, 2014

O.K. Robert, you win....legalizing ALL drugs....I am beyond speechless.

8:51AM PST on Jan 8, 2014

In case you havent noticed Tia…..making drugs illegal doesnt stop their use OR the selling thereof. All it does is raise the prices and allow gangs to become extremely powerful. People that want to rot their brain are going to do it no matter our teeth gnashing. Pohibition should have taught us that much. If people want to "escape" they are going to find a way even if its inhaling paint. Nothing we can do will stop it.

Make them legal and regulate them. Keep the cost so low the drug gangs dry up. I don't blame the police for anything. They are told to enforce laws that simply cant be enforced effectively as they are.

The point to THIS article is that the drug screening program was an utter failure. It caught no one and cost the state a shit load of money. Thats all the present day drug policy does…..cost money. It isnt stopping the use or trade of drugs. Its simply making the price go up.

7:51AM PST on Jan 8, 2014

Robert and Brian: I hope you are not saying you think ALL drugs should be legalized? I am in full support of the legalization of marijuanna but to legalize all drugs would yeild horrifc consiquences. Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that has ruined many, many lives. These new synthetic drugs people are making out of crap found under kitchen sinks like meth is also highly addictive. What about heroine, bath salts and the latest Krokodil? If you haven't heard of Krokodil I strongly suggest you Google it and look at the images then tell me you think it should be legal. It is more addictive than heroine and will literally rot your body from the inside out. Have you read all the stories about people cannibalizing others while high on bath salts?Fortunately, the day all drugs become legal will never happen because we have far too many intelligent, informed people who care about the future our our children and this country. As far as law enforcment " all being criminals" because they enforce our "corrupt" laws is concerned, please don't blame them for they do not make the laws. What is your suggestion? Should they all quit? Should they break the laws they are sworn to uphold and face prosecution - the same laws you and I have to live by to avoid prosecution?Then you have a state of anarchy. You would be surprised how many of them don't give a rat's ass about marijuanna. I don't think anyone of us can say we have ever worked at a job where we were required to do something we did

8:11PM PST on Jan 7, 2014

Tia T You also questioned my comments that all cops are criminals. Not all cops are bad. I had a cousin who was a cop, who was killed answering a domestic violence complaint. So, cops put their lives on the line, and have dangerous jobs. The problem is that cops enforce our corrupt drug laws and private for profit prison industry that enslaves people for money. Drug use should not be illegal. It should be treated, like the country Portugal does. Treatment is cheaper for us tax payers. Marijuana never killed anyone, and should be legal. America incarcerates more people than any nation. Half those people, are in for drug possession violations. These people should be treated, instead of having their lives ruined by simple possession of marijuana. Our nefarious private for profit prison industry, makes millions, by filling as many beds as possible, and paying off our venal congress to pass tough mandatory minimum drug laws, so they can incarcerate as many people as possible, for minor drug possession charges, and maximize their profits. So the police are all criminals because they enforce our corrupt drug laws, that destroy peoples lives for minor drug possession crimes, and allow the private for profit prison industry, which enslaves people, for money, to survive. Drug possession should not be a crime. Also, the police are never charged when they murder someone, in Swat raids, or on patrols, as video's on youtube have clearly shown.

7:50PM PST on Jan 7, 2014

Tia T. I agree with Robert. I think we should legalize drugs and end this prohibition. Drug testing is expensive, and waste funds that could be used to create jobs. Let's find solutions, instead of this endless witch hunt to find a trace of marijuana in someone's system. Legal drugs like chemical pesticides are in all our bodies from the vegetables and meat we eat. Why don't the police arrest the CEO's of Dow, DuPont, and the chemical pesticide industry. The rate of cancer deaths from the poisonous pesticides we ingest when we eat meat, or vegetables is far higher than the deaths from heroin, meth, and cocaine combined. And then their is alcohol and tobacco that kill 300,000 every year, and yet they are legal. You also questioned why the low $7.25 minimum wage shouldn't be raised to $15.00. It's because since 1960, inflation has gone up, but the minimum wage has not kept pace with it. Adjusted to inflation, and worker productivity, since 1960, the minimum wage should be $20.00 an hour. The price of everything goes up each year, and minimum wage must also go up, or people will live in poverty as they do now, requiring food stamps which we pay for through our taxes.

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