Implementation of a new Florida law requiring drug tests for welfare recipients should be delayed pending an anticipated legal challenge to determine whether the law is constitutional.
Better yet, the law should be rescinded as bad public policy.
Florida is not the first state to require drug testing of persons applying for the cash assistance — Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — program. Michigan adopted such a law, but the courts shut it down in 2003 as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches.
A suit is also anticipated against the Florida law under the same grounds, and the taxpayers will have to pay the costs of the state’s defense.
Even if Florida’s version is found constitutional, it is flawed in other ways.
Under the law, which took effect July 1, anyone applying for or receiving cash assistance (food stamps are not part of the law) must pay for a drug test to become or remain eligible.
In signing the legislation, Gov. Rick Scott said, “It’s the right thing for taxpayers. It’s the right thing for citizens of this state that need public assistance. We don’t want to waste tax dollars. And also, we want to give people an incentive to not use drugs.”
The state will be paying for the vast majority of the tests in addition to paying the monthly benefits. How is that saving money?
But, maybe the issue isn’t really about the money. Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said, “What (Scott) is doing is giving ugly legitimacy to an unfortunate stereotype that has been in this country for a couple of decades — that all welfare recipients are a bunch of drug abusers.”
Aside from the obvious exaggeration, it should be noted, perhaps, that studies consistently show that the percentage of welfare recipients using drugs is no greater than in the general population.
In the case of Florida’s pilot program, it was less than average.