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Senate sends state employee drug testing bill to Scott

It’s now up to the Governor to decide if state employees should be required to “pee in a cup.” As Sascha Cordner reports, a bill allowing state agencies to randomly drug-test their employees passed in the Florida Senate on the last day of session, but not without heated debate.

When Governor Rick Scott issued an executive order last year mandating the drug testing of all state workers, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida immediately filed a lawsuit and the order is still tied up in litigation.

But, now the group could be gearing up to challenge a bill on a similar issue of drug testing state employees, should it get signed into law.

The threat of a lawsuit did not stop Republican Senator Alan Hays of Umatilla from pressing forward with a more watered-down version of a drug testing bill to give state agencies the option of testing its employees:

“It is optional, the decision will be made by the agency head, but if they do decide to have a program, the bill insists that the selection be limited to no more that 10-percent of the employees of that agency and it be done on a random basis.”

Should the agency opt to move forward with the drug tests, the money would have to come from that agency’s pocket.

But, Democratic Senator Chris Smith says that’s too much to ask of an agency during times of cutbacks.

“You’re talking a cost. If an agency has extra money, please let [Senate Budget Chief] Senator [JD] Alexander know because we’re cutting everybody to the bone. And, if they got extra money, we need to use that somewhere else. We’re talking about spending more government money, infringing on personal freedom, expanding the role of Government for no good reason.”

Republican Senator Joe Negron crossed party lines to stand against the bill.

He says he too sees no reason for a suspicionless drug test, and adds even the founding fathers would have looked at the bill as pure government intrusion:

“Can you imagine if King George had told the Patriots that they all had to take drug test and sent an order over by ship to tell them that. I think they would have thrown the drug test right into the Boston Harbor, and would not have complied. I can’t picture Patrick Henry and John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson agreeing to allow the Government to test their most personal body fluids to find out if they’re using drugs or not.”

But, Republican Senator Evelyn Lynn says she doesn’t know why anyone would even have a problem with the bill, calling it a “simple little test.”

“What’s wrong with having random drug testing? I can’t imagine anybody being against this bill, a simple little test, you take it, it’s over with, and that’s the end, unless you have something to worry about, in which case then you wouldn’t like this bill, so this is a very good bill, and it’s long overdue, and I wish we [lawmakers] were included.”

Democratic Senator Maria Sachs countered that it’s these “simple little tests” that will infringe on the rights of citizens.

“You want to operate within the private business world, that’s your business, and that’s good, do that, it’s the American way! But, once you become involved in Government mandates, then you’re encroaching within the Constitution, a simple little drug test here, a simple little drug test there, that’s how we lose our liberties. We are still protected by the Bill of Rights.”

Bill sponsor Senator Hays says what many opponents don’t realize is that his bill could actually be a good thing for state employees:

“Think about the preventive aspects. If we can help that employee who has a problem, identify that problem early on, we’re going help them have a better family life, we’re going to help them have a better work environment, and we’re going to help them live longer and a better life. I think that we owe this to our state employees and each agency head can make up their own mind.”

The Florida Senate passed the bill on 26 to 14 vote, largely along party lines. The bill now heads to the Governor, who’s expected to sign it into law.

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.