Court overturns drug testing for welfare recipients

by Dwayne Hastings |

TALLAHASSEE –­­– A federal appeals court has found a Florida state law that required welfare recipients to pass a drug test unconstitutional.

The December 3 ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit of Appeals said welfare applicants "are not stripped of their legitimate expectations of privacy" when they apply for aid.

The state adopted the policy in 2011, after Florida governor Rick Scott argued the state should have a "zero-tolerance policy for illegal use" especially for families who "need welfare assistance to provide for their children."

The law required testing applicants for evidence of "amphetamines, methamphetamines, cannabinoids (THC), cocaine, phencyclidine (PCP), opiates, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methadone and propoxyphene." They were not tested for alcohol use.

Reportedly fewer than three percent (2.6%) of the applicants to the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program tested positive for illicit drugs. Another two percent didn't complete the required application process. The policy was in effect from July 2011 to October 2011.

Welfare applicants were required to pay for the testing themselves. The state refunded the payment if the test was negative.

The Florida law that required welfare applicants to undergo mandatory drug testing was initially ruled unconstitutional in late 2013. A New York Times report said Judge Mary S. Scriven of the U.S. District in Orlando ruled in part, "The court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could constitutionally applied."

The judge said it is "well established" that such a test is regarded as a search under the Fourth Amendment. The state argued the drug testing was not a search.

The state is considering an appeal of the court ruling, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute filed the case on behalf of Luis Lebron, a single father and full-time student at the University of Central Florida, who argued the state's requirement violated his civil rights.

A federal court in Michigan struck down a similar law that conditioned the granting of welfare for the needy on a negative drug test in 2003, according to the New York Times.