Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Scott Drops Welfare Drug Testing Challenge

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

After spending at least $300,000 of taxpayer money on legal expenses, Gov. Rick Scott is abandoning his fight to force welfare applicants to undergo mandatory drug tests.

A federal appeals court ruled in December that the state’s mandatory, suspicion-less drug testing of applicants in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program is an unconstitutional violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

Tuesday was the deadline for Scott to ask for an “en banc” review from the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld previous court decisions that the Florida law is unconstitutional, or to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We chose not to appeal this case. The governor is continuing to protect Florida children any way he can and create an environment where families can get jobs so they are able to pursue their dreams in safe communities,” Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in a statement Wednesday evening.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the challenge on behalf of single father and Navy veteran Luis Lebron shortly after the law went into effect in 2011, hailed the end of the drawn-out legal battle over the drug tests, an issue Scott campaigned on during his first bid for governor in 2010.

“This law was always about scoring political points on the backs of Florida’s poor and treating them like suspected criminals without suspicion or evidence. It not only offended the dignity of families who are struggling to get by and need temporary assistance, but it also offended constitutional protections against invasive government searches,” ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said in a statement.

In December’s 54-page opinion authored by appeals-court Judge Stanley Marcus, the Atlanta-based court rejected Scott’s arguments that the drug tests are needed to ensure that children in poor families grow up in drug-free homes. The state also argued that TANF applicants would give up privacy rights by consenting to urine tests to be eligible for benefits.

The law “offends the Fourth Amendment,” Marcus wrote, and relied on the state’s own evidence showing that, during the short time that the law was in effect, fewer than 3 percent of TANF applicants tested positive for drugs.

“Of course, citizens do not abandon all hope of privacy by applying for government assistance. By virtue of poverty, TANF applicants are not stripped of their legitimate expectations of privacy --- they are not employees in dangerous vocations or students subject to the (power) of the state,” Marcus wrote.

Scott, however, has not totally abandoned a separate effort to drug test state workers.

The governor was forced to capitulate on an executive order requiring all state employees to submit to urine tests. The federal appeals court ruled last year that Scott could not constitutionally justify drug testing for all types of state workers without a reason.

Scott and lawyers for the ACLU of Florida, which represents the state workers’ union, haggled for months before reaching consensus on classes of jobs that could be eligible for the tests. The U.S. Supreme Court this summer refused to hear an appeal in the case, which is pending before a federal judge in Miami.