Some Question Scott's Motives For Pursuing Another Appeal To Welfare Drug Test Ruling

Mar 1, 2013

A temporary ban to block drug testing in Florida for welfare recipients is still in place, after a federal appeals court validated a lower court’s ruling that the state hasn’t shown why it’s necessary. Some are questioning the Governor’s motives for moving forward with the challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court, despite two other courts upholding the ban.

“It’s like he’s on an ideological binge, spending our tax dollars to defend the indefensible. Somebody has got to talk to the Governor or try to stop him,” said Howard Simon with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Simon's group, the ACLU, is trying to stop Governor Rick Scott from continuing a court battle over a bill that Scott signed into law about two years ago.

The law allows for the drug testing of welfare recipients before they can receive assistance from the state. But, the ACLU sued the state, and a lower court ruled in its favor, putting a temporary ban in place. Still, Scott appealed that decision.

Scott says it’s not right for taxpayers to be paying for someone else’s drug addiction. And, about two years ago, he defended that same position on CNN.

“On top of that, this is going to increase personal responsibility and accountability. We shouldn’t be subsidizing people’s drug addiction. And, you have to remember welfare is for the benefit of our children and not for somebody else’s drug addiction,” said Scott, during part of his interview.

This issue is certainly getting serious media attention nationwide. But, Scott himself was the subject of a satirical take on issue, when Aasif Mandvi, a Correspondent on Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart, made a visit to the Governor’s budget unveil in 2011.

“You benefit from hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars every year, so would you be willing to pee into this cup to prove to Florida taxpayers that you're not on drugs, that you aren't using this money for drugs," asked Mandvi.

I've done it plenty of times," said Scott.

You will," asked Mandvi.

"I've done it plenty of times," Scott replied again.

"Well can you pass this forward to the Governor. We can all turn around, it's fine," said Mandvi, as he passed a cup down the row toward the Governor.

But, it was no laughing matter when the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta recently upheld a lower court’s decision to temporarily ban the drug testing of welfare recipients in Florida. In its 38-page opinion, the federal appeals court stated the state had not shown a “substantial special need” for the mandatory testing. It’s also what the ACLU’s Howard Simon argued, calling the mandatory drug tests a violation of welfare applicants’ Fourth Amendment rights.

“Whether you’re an applicant for welfare, every American citizen has a right to be free from unreasonable searches. And, the U.S. Supreme Court has identified very, very narrow circumstances, in which there could be an exception to that: people who are involved in safety sensitive jobs or people like school bus drivers where the welfare of children are at stake and this does not fall in any of these categories,” said Simon.

Still, Governor Scott, in a statement, said he’s doing this for the “wellbeing of Florida families.” That’s why he says he has to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but some say Scott should throw in the towel.

“This is just unreasonable to continue to pursue this in a court of law and you’ve lost twice,” said Senator Arthenia Joyner.

The Tampa Democrat as the chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus says even the numbers show that there’s no real reason to suspect all welfare recipients are drug users.

“Studies have shown that these people do not engage in using drugs to a percentage as high as that of the general population. In fact, I think it’s 6-percent less, and it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to pursue this issue—And, so what is the motive for this? The drug testing companies make money, but state loses.”

The state is estimated to have lost thousands of dollars and not just on legal fees. The law forced welfare recipients to pay for their drug test, and if they passed, the state would reimburse them. And, during the time the law was in effect, most did pass.

Joyner says it just doesn’t add up why Scott would continue to fight. And, ACLU’s Howard Simon agrees.

“This is like amateur hour in Tallahassee. You would have at least thought that the Governor would have at least taken a little bit of time to consult with people, to read the opinion, to come out with something that was a more thoughtful decision. Or is this all simply caught up in politics. He’s a candidate for re-election, and he can’t look like he’s backing down to the federal courts,” remarked Simon.

While the state is in the process of taking its challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court, a federal appeals court in the coming weeks is also set to take up another drug testing law that Scott has championed. It’s one that would allow for the drug testing of state employees.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.