The ACLU is ridiculing Gov. Rick Scott for frittering away nearly $400,000 in taxpayer dollars on legal fees to defend drug-testing laws.
We don’t think that is an excessive amount to spend fighting the scourge of drugs, but the courts have made clear this is a losing battle. It’s time the governor changed tactics.
The governor and lawmakers in 2011 adopted measures requiring all welfare applicants to be tested for drugs and also requiring state workers to be drug tested.
The goals were simple and laudatory: to curtail drug use and ensure tax dollars are not spent on drugs.
Given that private employers routinely require workers to undergo drug tests, the provisions hardly seem oppressive.
But the courts have consistently disagreed. The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, a conservative-leaning court, found that a blanket drug-test requirement for state employees violated their right to privacy, though it allowed that the tests could be appropriate for certain jobs.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the state’s appeal.
The 11th Circuit also found mandatory drug testing of welfare applicants was an unreasonable search and violated the Fourth Amendment. Later, a federal judge also ruled against the welfare requirement, saying there “is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.”
The governor continues to defend the requirements. Just last week his spokesman, John Tupps, emailed The Huffington Post: “Governor Scott will continue to fight for Florida taxpayers, who deserve a drug-free state workforce, and for Florida’s children, who deserve to live in drug-free homes.”
We admire Scott’s motives, but it seems obvious that he will not prevail. The superior course would be to revise the requirements to make them constitutional.
This can be done by requiring the tests when there is cause to suspect drug use.
After all, the 11th Circuit did find that the state could require the drug testing of state workers without cause if safety was a factor. So testing should be possible for law enforcement officials, heavy equipment operators and such.
The court’s determination, coupled with a policy of testing people for cause, would strengthen the state’s workplace safeguards.
Similarly, adopting a suspicion-based screening process for welfare applicants, as Utah and Tennessee have, would be constitutional and would still guard against tax dollars going to drug users. The possibility of drug tests surely would discourage drug abusers or those with a history of drug-related crimes from seeking public assistance.
Such policies might not go as far as the governor wants, but they would advance the drug fight without constitutional pitfalls or additional legal fees.