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.”
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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