Judge Strikes Down Rick Scott’s Drug Testing for State Workers

"As I have repeatedly explained, I believe that drug testing state employees is a common sense means of ensuring a safe, efficient and productive workforce," Gov. Rick Scott told the Florida Times-Union. (Photo courtesy of Rick Scott.)

By Howard Goodman
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post indicated that the welfare-applicant testing was ongoing. That has been corrected.

A federal judge has ruled that Gov. Rick Scott violated the Constitution last year when he ordered drug testing for state government workers.

U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro ruled on Wednesday that suspicionless drug testing testing for state workers violated the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable search and seizure.

Scott suspended his order in June, after it had been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 40,000 of the 85,000 state workers who would have been affected by the order.

Scott said today he will appeal the ruling, according to the Florida Times-Union. “As I have repeatedly explained, I believe that drug testing state employees is a common sense means of ensuring a safe, efficient and productive workforce … That is why so many private employers drug test, and why the public and Florida’s taxpayers overwhelmingly support this policy.”

The Republican governor had issued the executive order last year, directing some state agencies to test their employees for drugs, and last month he signed into law a measure with the same intent. The law permits state agencies to test randomly up to 10 percent of their employees. The tests can be conducted every 90 days and agencies can fire or discipline employees if they test positive for drugs.

The law, which the ACLU believes is unconstitutional, takes effect in July. The courts have largely upheld drug testing for workers with public safety jobs.

Strikingly, the testing would not apply to Florida legislators — an omission that came under ridicule on The Daily Show:

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In a similar vein, Florida passed a law last year to require drug-testing of all welfare applicants. But the program was halted after four months when a federal judge questioned its constitutionality.

Very few of the prospective recipients tested positive, and the program appears to have cost Floridians more than it saved, according to Orlando-based TV station WFTV.

The Miami Herald elaborates:

Of the 4,086 applicants who scheduled drug tests while the law was enforced, 108 people, or 2.6 percent, failed, most often testing positive for marijuana. About 40 people scheduled tests but canceled them, according to the Department of Children and Families, which oversees Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, known as the TANF program.

The numbers, confirming previous estimates, show that taxpayers spent $118,140 to reimburse people for drug test costs, at an average of $35 per screening.

The state’s net loss? $45,780.

The welfare requirement was in place for four months, from July to October, when U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven halted the drug testing with an injunction, finding that a welfare applicant represented by the ACLU who challenged the law would likely win his case on constitutional grounds.

“Many states are considering following Florida’s example, and the new data from the state shows they shouldn’t,” Derek Newton, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told the New York Times, “Not only is it unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy, but it doesn’t save money, as was proposed.”

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