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Scott vows to appeal latest ruling on drug tests for TANF


The U.S. District Court handed Gov. Rick Scott a defeat on Dec. 31 when it struck down a law requiring drug screening of welfare recipients unconstitutional.

Middle District of Florida Judge Mary Scriven granted summary judgment on behalf of Luis Lebron, who at the outset of the 2011 case was a 35-year-old Navy veteran, college student and single father from Orlando. Lebron refused to submit to a drug test arguing that requiring him to pay for and submit to one is unreasonable when there is no reason to believe he uses drugs. Lebron was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Scott’s 2010 campaign promise to enact the drug tests is one of dozens of promises PolitiFact Florida is tracking on our Scott-O-Meter. On Friday Scott announced he will appeal to the 11th Circuit.

Scott signed a law in 2011 to drug test recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. But the court issued a preliminary injunction a few months later.

While the law was in effect from July through October 2011, about 2.6 percent -- or 108 of 4,046 people -- tested positive for drugs, the most common being marijuana.

 The state continued to argue that it warranted an exception to the Fourth Amendment to ensure TANF participants’ job readiness, to meet child-welfare goals and to ensure that public funds are properly used.

But in the Dec. 31 ruling, the court agreed with the 11th Circuit’s conclusion that “There is nothing so special or immediate about the government’s interest in ensuring that TANF recipients are drug free so as to warrant suspension of the Fourth Amendment. The only known and shared characteristic of the individuals who would be subjected to Florida’s mandatory drug testing program is that they are financially needy families with children. Yet, there is nothing inherent in the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a concrete danger that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use or that should drug use occur, that the lives of TANF recipients are fraught with such risks of injury to others that even a momentary lapse of attention can have disastrous consequences.”

A 1998 study by the Department of Children and Families found researchers found a lower rate of drug usage among TANF applicants than the state’s population as a whole.

“This would suggest that TANF funds are no more likely to be diverted to drug use or used in a manner that would expose children to drugs or affect “family stability” than funds provided to any other recipient of government benefits,” Scriven wrote.