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Friday, December 5, 2014

Drug Testing Welfare Applicants Struck Down

In 2011, the state of Florida passed a law which required all welfare applicants take drug tests, according to The New York Times. However, a federal appeals court has struck down the law, ruling that the law was an “unreasonable search.” The court found that Florida officials failed to show a substantial need to test all welfare applicants.

“Florida’s suspicionless drug testing program for those seeking assistance clearly violated the Constitution,” Jason Williamson, Staff Attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, said in a news release. “With today’s decision, this prejudiced and intrusive treatment of the poor will come to an end.”

Not only did the Florida law require welfare applicants to be drug tested, it also required that the cost of the drug test fell on the applicants. If the applicant passed the drug screen they would be able to recover the money they spent on the test. Those who failed the drug test could designate someone else to collect the welfare benefits on behalf of their children.

The law received a lot of scrutiny from the beginning, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and a Navy veteran filed a lawsuit over the ruling. In response, Judge Mary Scriven, temporarily halted the law, saying that the law may violate the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. In 2013, a federal judge ruled the law unconstitutional, but the state appealed.

Sadly, Florida is not the only state to pass legislation requiring welfare applicants to take drug tests. Since 2011, when Florida passed the law, 11 other states passed laws mandating drug testing for welfare applicants, according to the article. However, most state laws requiring welfare applicants to submit to drug screening, will only test if the applicant is suspected of using drugs.

States should focus their efforts on setting up more programs to treat impoverished addicts, rather than devising ways to cut them off from the financial support they so desperately need.

“We are very pleased by the Court’s opinion, which once again makes clear that the US Constitution forbids the State of Florida from subjecting ordinary private citizens to invasive and unwarranted searches,” stated ACLU of Florida associate legal director Maria Kayanan. “This is a resounding affirmation of the values that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects – that none of us can be forced to submit to invasive and humiliating searches at the whim of the government, and that the Constitution protects the poor and the wealthy alike. The Court has once again confirmed what we argued all along: that the state of Florida cannot treat an entire class of people like suspected criminals simply because they’ve asked the State for temporary assistance.”

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