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Federal courts: drug testing welfare recipients unconstitutional | News

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Federal courts: drug testing welfare recipients unconstitutional

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Floridians who need help taking care of their children now have to pass a drug test first.

Wednesday, 10News looked in to questions of whether it's saving the state money or costing more. Tonight, after reviewing Federal Court cases, we've learned Florida's drug testing laws could be violating your constitutional rights!

Since July, nearly 1,500 Floridians have taken drug tests to continue receiving welfare.

Governor Rick Scott stands behind it, but federal judges have ruled laws like this violate the U.S. Constitution.

In a 1997 ruling from Georgia by the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, "The Fourth Amendment precludes suspicionless search... the drug test diminishes personal privacy."

In 2003, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from Michigan backed that up saying, "Michigan law authorizing suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients was unconstitutional."

Florida law professors agree.

Stetson University's James Fox, an expert on constitutional law, wrote, "Ironically, the Florida Republican Party, which opposes federal health-care legislation as being unconstitutional, has adopted a welfare law far more likely to be found unconstitutional. This new law reveals hypocrisy."

Fox's colleague at Stetson, Bruce Jacob agrees, "It seems to me, the result would have to be, that if suit is brought here that the Florida law would be declared unconstitutional."

Democratic State Representative Betty Reed says, "It's wrong. It's wrong because this was tried some years ago and it didn't work."

Rep. Reed is talking about an experiment, here in Florida, from 2000 where researchers tested welfare recipients for drugs. In their final report, the lead researcher from Florida State University wrote he "did not recommend continuation or statewide expansion of the project" because, in part, "the cost of the program was not warranted."

"Obviously, if you're not saving anything it makes no sense," Representative Rick Kriseman says. "As a state, it seems to me the message we're sending out is: if you're poor, you're not welcome here in this state. If you're disadvantaged, if life has thrown you a curve ball, we don't care about you here in the State of Florida. To me, that's not the message we should be sending."

10News contacted 10 local state legislators who supported this bill but did not hear back from any of them.

A spokesperson for Governor Scott did respond. He did not argue against questions of constitutionality. He simply said that Florida's law has not been challenged in court.

As we 10News reported Wednesday, attorneys from the ACLU are already working on a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of these drug tests.

Follow 10News Reporter Chase Cain on Twitter @chase_cain


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