Drug testing of welfare applicants blocked

Oct. 25, 2011 at 8:40 AM
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ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 25 (UPI) -- A federal judge temporarily blocked Florida officials from drug-testing welfare applicants, rejecting the state's arguments that the tests were legal.

U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven blocked the state Monday from requiring Luis Lebron to submit to a "suspicionless" drug test as a condition for receiving welfare benefits until the case is resolved, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

"I'm very happy that the judge protected my rights and privacy," Lebron said. "I was anticipating a favorable decision. I just felt deep down inside that this was the right thing to do."

In her 37-page ruling, Scriven said there was a "substantial likelihood" that a challenge of the new state law on constitutional grounds would succeed.

Fulfilling a campaign pledge by Gov. Rick Scott, the drug testing began July 1 for applicants seeking cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Through September, more than 21,000 applicants were approved and 32 tested positive for drugs, the Sentinel reported. State officials said another 1,597 completed the paperwork but declined to take the drug test.

Among other things, Scriven said it is "well established" that a drug test is considered a search under the Fourth Amendment. She also said positive drug tests weren't kept confidential and were shared with Florida Department of Children and Families, state abuse hotline counselors and medical reviewers.

"More troubling, positive test results are memorialized, perhaps indefinitely, in a database that the State admits can be accessed by law enforcement," Scriven wrote. "This potential interception of positive drug tests by law enforcement implicates a 'far more substantial' invasion of privacy than in ordinary civil drug testing cases."

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said the governor was considering an appeal.

"Drug testing welfare recipients is just a common sense way to ensure that welfare dollars are used to help children and get parents back to work," she told the Sentinel in an e-mail. "The governor obviously disagrees with the decision and he will evaluate his options regarding when to appeal."

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