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Drug testing for state employees--minus lawmakers-- moving in legislature

As a federal judge looks into the constitutionality of Governor Rick Scott’s order to randomly drug test state workers, the Legislature is still moving legislation along that would do just that. But, as Sascha Cordner reports, despite a last minute change to soften the bill, the measure still came under fire from labor unions and Democrats in a House panel Friday.

Republican Representative Jimmie Smith of Lecanto says his bill is just one more step toward changing societal attitudes towards drug use. Since its previous committee stop, the bill has gone through several changes. The bill initially required all state agencies to randomly drug test ALL state workers, but now it’s not entirely the same bill:

“Those to be tested must be selected through random computer generation and can’t include 10-percent of the workforce.”

The bill also now gives the agencies the option to drug test employees, instead of requiring the drug tests. Another new provision includes that if the state agency decides to the drug tests, it would have to fund the drug tests on its own dime, without any help from the Legislature.

So, in essence, by providing no additional allocation, you’re actually making it worse by encouraging agencies on their own decision making, to take money that you have allocated for critical purposes and use it for a program that again, there is no evidence whatsoever that you need to expand this program.”

That assessment of Rich Templin of Florida’s AFL-CIO led to a counter-argument from the bill’s sponsor. Smith cited figures from the Department of Corrections that show a decline in employee drug use, ever since job seekers and prison employees were subjected to drug tests:

The Department of Corrections had 28 job applicants test positive in 2008, they had 20 job applicants test positive in 2009, they had 17 job applicants test positive in 2010. Subsequently, they randomly drug tested 772 employees in a three month period in 2011, and yielded 19 positives.”

However, Smith’s arguments held little sway with Ron Bilbao, with the ACLU of Florida, who says the bill is still unconstitutional and is an invitation to costly lawsuits:

“In fact, a federal judge in Miami heard arguments in an on-going litigation on this very issue: the subjecting to government employees to suspicion-less random drug testing, which violates the Fourth Amendment. Before moving ahead with a bill that is likely to expose taxpayers to even more expensive litigation, this Legislature should consider waiting until this case is resolved.”

Democratic lawmakers, like Representative Dwayne Taylor, also felt that state employees shouldn’t be subjected to drug tests, calling Smith’s bill another opportunity to bring down state workers:

“They haven’t had a raise in over five years, then you turn around and take 3-percent from them last year, now you want them to prove that they’re not doing drugs. You don’t cite a specific problem anywhere, other than the Department of Corrections when they do their pre-employment screening. They already drug test for that, but to look back at these state workers, who are working here for us in this Capitol, specific staff who are sitting right behind us. To say that if you don’t do drugs, then prove it to us, by taking a drug test. In other words, you’re guilty, now prove that you’re innocent.”

But, the bill’s sponsor Representative Smith took offense at the implication that he’s doing this to hurt state workers:

This bill does not suggest state workers are more likely to be drug users. Instead, this bill simply suggests that our society, our society, has a real drug problem, which should be addressed and that our government agencies should have the same tool in their tool box as private companies do, such as Publix, a grocery store.”

The bill passed along a party line vote with Democrats opposed in the House State Affairs Committee. It now heads to the House floor.

The Senate version has two more stops to go before it can head to the Senate floor. Senate bill 1358’s next stop is a committee chaired by its Senate sponsor, the Senate Budget Subcommittee on General Government Appropriations.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.