By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Two laws the state has been defending met their end in an appeals court this week.
For the fourth time, a federal court has struck down a 2011 law that mandates a drug test for welfare applicants in Florida. The day after, the same federal court denied Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s motion asking the court to not lift the stay of a previous court ruling that would allow gay marriages in the state.
The two ruling are a huge blow to GOP leadership in the state, which has been fighting in defense of both laws. Gov. Rick Scott made welfare drug testing one of his main campaign promises back in 2010. The rulings also come just less than a month after Scott and Bondi won their re-election races.
On Tuesday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling and affirmed “the warrantless, suspicionless urinalysis drug testing of every Florida TANF applicant as a mandatory requirement for receiving Temporary Cash Assistance offends the Fourth Amendment.”
For years, the state has been defending its effort to drug test Floridians that apply for the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program ahead of receiving benefits. Besides getting national attention (and ridicule), the state’s drug testing policies have also been found to be costly, as well as unconstitutional.
Together with a halted state employee drug testing policy, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida found the state had spent about $400,000 defending suspicionless drug testing programs. The Scott Administration’s challenges to the constitution has prompted the ACLU, which defends constitutional rights, to increase its pace of litigation compared to previous governors.
The majority of the costs were incurred after initial court decisions ruling the two policies unconstitutional: a 2011 law requiring applicants for the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to submit to drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits, and a 2011 executive order issued by Gov. Scott mandating state employees under the governor’s purview do the same as a condition of employment. In all, the ACLU discovered that as of May 7, 2014, the state has spent $381,654.45 on the cases, not including staff attorneys’ salaries or court-ordered attorneys’ fees–not to mention the costs of administering the drug testing programs in the first place.
That’s on top of what the welfare drug testing program itself was costing taxpayers. Until the law was halted by a court, only 2.6 percent of applicants tested positive. However, the state had to reimburse every applicant for a drug test.
Just after the unconstitutionality of the TANF drug testing law was upheld, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also denied the state’s motion to keep a stay on a ruling that found the state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional. The ACLU of Florida asked the court to turn that motion down and let gay marriages take place in the state.
According to the ACLU of Florida’s recent press release, “in its order today, the panel from the 11th Circuit, made up of Judges Frank M. Hull, Charles R. Wilson, and Adalberto Jordan denied the State’s motion to extend the stay.”
“If no other extension is placed on the stay,” the ACLU wrote, “marriages will be able to go forward and marriages performed in other states will be recognized starting January 6th.”
This means it’s possible Scott and Bondi will be sworn into office the same day gay marriages start taking place statewide.