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Welfare Drug Test Thrown Out

The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A federal judge in Tampa has struck down a Florida law requiring recipients of welfare benefits to undergo mandatory drug testing. Gov. Rick Scott's office immediately sent out a release saying Florida will appeal.

U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven ruled Tuesday that the law was unconstitutional and shouldn’t be enforced.  The ruling made permanent her earlier, temporary ban.

Gov. Rick Scott had backed the drug testing of applicants for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families,  arguing it helped protect taxpayers and families. Opponents of the law, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, had argued it was an unconstitutional search and seizure.

Scott's release said the state will appeal the issue on behalf of low-income children, saying they deserve to live in drug-free homes.

“Any illegal drug use in a family is harmful and even abusive to a child," Scott's release said. "We should have a zero tolerance policy for illegal drug use in families – especially those families who struggle to make ends meet and need welfare assistance to provide for their children. "

But Scott, who has used the drug tests as a campaign issue, might find other federal judges are also unsympathetic to the state's arguments. After Scriven issued her temporary ban in October 2011, Scott turned to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Credit Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
The Florida Channel
U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven

But a three-judge panel of that court sided with Scriven in February, saying the tests amounted to an unreasonable search by the government. Scott's request for a full-court hearing was denied.

As The News Service of Florida reported, Scriven's 30-page opinion scolded the state. She wrote that "there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied."

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.