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Florida ACLU challenges mandatory drug screening for state welfare applicants

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLUFL) [advocacy website] on Wednesday filed a federal class action lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] seeking to enjoin implementation of the recently passed state law that mandates drug testing for individuals seeking Temporary Cash Assistance (TAC). The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida [official website] on behalf of a class led by Luis Lebron, a 35-year-old Orlando resident, Navy veteran and full time University of Central Florida student who applied for TAC to help support his four-year-old son. Lebron meets all the criteria for aid but refused to submit to the drug test on the principle that it is an infringement of his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. In effect since July 1, the new law [Fla Stat 414.0652 text] was signed by Governor Rick Scott [official website] at the end of May and requires applicants for welfare benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) [official website] program to submit to and fund a urinalysis for substance screening. Individuals who pass receive reimbursement for the cost of the test, and those who fail lose their TANF benefits for one year. The ACLU complaint notes that the Supreme Court has held that suspicionless drug testing by the government is an unreasonable search that violates the Fourth Amendment, the only exceptions being for substantial public safety concerns and students in the public school system. TANF is a federal block grant program passed under 1996 welfare reform legislation aimed at turning welfare into a temporary assistance program.

The ACLUFL filed suit [JURIST report] in June challenging Scott's executive order mandating state agencies to enact pre-employment drug screening for all prospective employees and provide for random drug testing of all current agency employees regardless of classification. The governor issued Executive Order 11-58 [text, PDF] in March and directed the drug testing policy to go into effect by May 21, 2011. The challenge was brought on behalf of a public employees union representing 50,000 public workers affected by the order. In the complaint, the ACLUFL argued that the order violates both the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable governmental searches and case law stating that drug-testing without suspicion is unreasonable except under certain circumstances, such as when employees are involved in "safety-sensitive" positions. Special counsel for the union also argued that the order unfairly singles out public workers.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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