ACLU, Navy vet sue over welfare drug testing
By Sascha Cordner
Tallahassee, FL – American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is challenging a 2-month old state law requiring new welfare recipients to pass a drug test. As Sascha Cordner reports, they say it's unconstitutional to test applicants of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF program based on what they call "an unfair and unproven stereotype."
The ACLU of Florida filed the lawsuit on behalf of 35-year old Orlando resident, Navy Veteran, and full-time student Luis Lebron, who applied for temporary cash assistance in July. He says it's unfair for people, like the Governor and the lawmakers who passed the drug testing bill, to pass judgment based on an applicant's economic situation:
"They don't know that I'm not a drug user or that I'm a sole provider for my son, and from where I sit, it feels like they don't care. They just assume that because someone needs help, they must be on drugs and they lump everyone together even though this new law is proving that people who need this help are testing positive for drug use at a rate lower than the average."
Since the law went into effect, about two-percent of welfare recipients failed the drug test. Now, those individuals can't get benefits for at least year and could face child abuse charges, under the law that Governor Rick Scott signed in July. They must also pay for the drug test. People who pass the test are reimbursed. Governor Rick Scott says he does not see a downside:
"That money is supposed to be for the benefit of a child. That's what the welfare benefit is supposed to be for, so I think that's a real positive."
At this time, though Luis Lebron and his four-year old son meet the criteria for assistance, he refuses to submit to the drug test. ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon says it's because it's against Lebron's Fourth Amendment rights of search and seizure protections. Simon cites an example of how that argument worked in a court case in Michigan.
"Only one state has tried to do this, which resulted in litigation, namely the state of Michigan and about a decade ago, it was struck down by the federal courts in a rather complicated set of litigation and a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in the state of Michigan."
But, a Spokesman for the Governor's office says Florida is not the state of Michigan, and believes there is no problem with the law. The ACLU's suit asks the court to declare provisions in the drug testing bill unconstitutional and stop the state from requiring the drug tests. Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins is named as the defendant in the lawsuit because he is responsible for implementing the law. Luis Lebron is listed as the main plaintiff.