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Lawmaker would consider expanding drug-testing bill to business owners

Welfare recipients convicted of a drug-related felony would have to pass a drug tests for three years to receive state assistance under a bill that passed its first House committee this morning.

The bill (HB 353) was approved, 12-3, by the House Health & Human Services Access Subcommittee. Democrats Ari Porth of Coral Springs and Reggie Fullwood of Jacksonville joined the Republican majority to support the bill. It has three more committee stops. A similar version in the Senate has not received a hearing.

The Republican majority on the committee cheered on Rep. Jimmy  T. Smith, R-Inverness, sponsoring the bill that is among Gov. Rick Scott's priorities this session. "A whole bunch of people are telling me to go big with this," Smith said.

The bill has some issues, according to the staff analysis. 

It does not specify how often testing should happen. And it requires new licensure programs and rule-making authority for state agencies that some lawmakers oppose. "I'd like to see you ... come up with some more  specifics," Rep. Kenneth Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, said before voting for the bill. "Sometimes we really get in trouble when we grant these agencies broad rule-making authority."

There could also be a constitutional issue: a federal appeals court in 2003 struck a similar Michigan law saying "suspicion-less drug testing" violated privacy rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

But Rep. Ana Rivas Logan, R-Miami, said the bill "doesn't really go far enough" and that all applicants for state assistance should be drug tested. Chairwoman Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, mentioned the privacy issue, but Rivas Logan urged her colleagues to push forward.

"I would like to encourage this body to take on some constitutional issues, because in the end we just might win," the former Miami-Dade school board member said.

After the meeting, Logan refused to say how for she wanted to go. Wayne Huizenga's football team, the Miami Dolphins, receives state help to pay for its football stadium. Should he be drug tested?

"Him? He receives public dollars? That's kind of a stretch," she said.

Smith agreed. Asked his bill should be applied to owners of business that receive tax incentives, Smith said, "I'm sure none of those are convicted drug felons."

And if there are?

"I'm not going to say no to that," Smith said. "The constituents want to make sure that our tax dollars are going to the right people as a hand-up not a hand out. So where this bill goes from here? It could potentially expand."

Said Rep. Gwendolyn Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach: "I don't think they've thought this through."