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State employee drug testing bill returns

Legislators are pushing yet another bill that would ask Florida citizens to pee in a cup. Regan McCarthy reports the bill that’s making its way through the House would let state agencies randomly drug test their employees.

Even after several complaints about the constitutionality of rules that would require people to submit to drug testing – like a measure passed last session that instituted drug testing for welfare recipients—lawmakers are moving forward with more plans to keep tabs on the habits of Floridians. Representative Jimmie Smith, a Republican from Lecanto says he hopes his bill, House Bill 1205, will help to change the public’s perception of drug use.

“All people under the influence of drugs are dangerous to public safety.”

Last year, Governor Rick Scott tried to order random drug testing of state employees—but Scott dropped his effort after his attempts were challenged in federal court. Now if Smith’s bill passes, state statute would allow it. Smith says his bill leaves the decision of whether to test up to the individual agencies.

“Basically, a drug free workplace act is already established, look at the department of corrections, they’re already doing it. We’re just giving more tools in the toolbox. This is an option for them to use.”

Essentially Smith’s bill would give state agencies the ability to randomly drug test their employees once  every three months. Representative Kenneth Roberson, A Republican from Port Charlotte  says he received a call from the governor’s office asking him to support the measure. And he says he plans to do so. But he is concerned that the bill makes testing optional, because he thinks it will lead to a lack of uniformity. Representative Debbie Mayfield, a Republican from Vero Beach also supports the bill, but echoes that concern. Mayfield says the state needs to come up with a solid “plan.”

“You know, I agree. Its may or shall. Either we’re going to do it or we’re not going to do it so if we’re going to do it then it should be a shall not a may.”

And that’s not the only concern lawmakers have. Representative Cynthia Stafford, a Democrat from Miami, says she’s worried about the constitutionality of the bill and the fact that there’s no clear measure of how much money implementing the bill would cost.

  “In these fiscal times we’re all looking at ways to save money and we don’t know if this could take us in another direction in an increase kind of way.”

Smith says there is no answer about the cost because administering the tests is optional and there’s no way to know which agencies would take advantage of the ability to drug test their employees. Representative  Jeff Clemens a Democrat from Lakeworth says he takes issue with the provision that would let employers fire a worker for testing positive even just once.

“We’ve really got to get our heads around how we want to treat people who are having hard times in the state and kicking them to the curb I think is very harsh.”

Clemens calls the provision heartless. He says workers deserve a chance to try to get healthy.

We can all hopefully get behind the idea that people deserve the chance to fix a mistake. I don’t think we sever society at all by kicking them out of the street without a job, that certainly doesn’t help them and it certainly doesn’t help our local communities.”

But Smith maintains that decision should be up to the employer.

“Depending on your circumstance of employment depending on the offense that is done the employer can see it as something that’s maybe incidental or can see it as a serious infraction. And if it’s a serious infraction they should have the ability to take you off the tax payer rolls.”

The bill passed out of the House Government Operations subcommittee with a 9 –4 party line vote. Next the bill moves to the House Appropriations committee. Republican Senator Alan Hays has filed a similar bill in the Senate.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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