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Drug-testing bill clears Legislature, heads to Gov's desk

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Senators Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, center, shares a laugh with Senators Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R- Miami, left, and Garrett Richter, R- Naples, right, after passage of Hays drug testing bill for state employees. [Scott Keeler | Times]

Florida lawmakers approved a plan to allow random drug tests for state employees Friday, on a 26-14 Senate vote.

Bill sponsor, Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said the bill was necessary to curb the problem of illegal drug use in Florida.

“For us to put our heads in the sand and say, ‘Oh no, we won’t allow our state employees to be drug tested, is disingenuous’,” said Hays. “Just because somebody works for the state, doesn’t make them any less likely to have a drug abuse problem.”

While similar random suspicionless testing programs are common in some private sector industries, courts rulings indicate that government drug tests may be unconstitutional.

The bill allows state agencies to randomly test up to 10 percent of their workforce once every three months. It would also allow agencies to fire employees the first time they test positive. Current law only allows random drug testing for “safety sensitive” positions, and prohibits agencies from firing workers who test positive once, requiring treatment programs instead.

Hays, and his House counterpart Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, have said the drug tests make sense and will stand up to a constitutional test.

Democrats and some so-called “Libertarian Republicans,” like Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, voted against the testing plan.

Lawmakers last week voted down an amendment that would have required the governor and elected officials to be drug tested.

“It was found to be unconstitutional to drug test elected officials because it prevents us, as citizens, from having that First Amendment right,” Smith said last month.

The bill, which survived a brief brush with death last month, is headed to the Governor’s desk. 

@ToluseO

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