Welfare drug testing law blocked by Florida Judge

The battle continues between State legislature’s passing all sorts of frightening laws and the judicial system fighting to see what pieces can be enacted.

This time, its the controversial Florida law that required welfare recipients to submit to a drug test before receiving their benefits. From the Associated Press:

A federal judge temporarily blocked Florida’s new law that requires welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits on Monday, saying it may violate the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Judge Mary Scriven ruled in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of a 35-year-old Navy veteran and single father who sought the benefits while finishing his college degree, but refused to take the test. The judge said there was a good chance plaintiff Luis Lebron would succeed in his challenge to the law based on the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from being unfairly searched.

There are so many things horrifically wrong with this law, its difficult to know where to start. Obviously the Constitution is a good place, but on a moral and ethical basis there is much wrong with the ideology behind this kind of bill. Substance abuse or casual drug use should not disqualify someone for public benefits. Low-income people should not be subject to invasive and privacy violating tests that people who aren’t on welfare aren’t subject to. This kind of race and class-based drug policing already happens, which is evidenced by the rates of drug use among different populations and who actually goes to jail for drug-related crimes.

Also, the large majority of welfare recipients in Florida (96%) who already subjected themselves to this horrific practice (perhaps because they need that support to survive) have passed the test and are substance free. The law also may end up costing the state money, because those who test negative are reimbursed for the cost of the drug test. This despite the Governor’s claims that it would save the state $77 million. Florida isn’t the first state to consider such laws, but it’s the first in about a decade to enact it.

These kinds of rules just show what extreme contempt we have for people who struggle with drug addiction, despite the fact that it’s a huge problem in our country, one that stretches across race and class divisions.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/swisschard/ Alexandra

    Miriam! Thank you so much for writing this story. Stigma against (poor) people who use drugs is rampant even in more progressive circles (even by people who use drugs themselves!). I spent the past two years organizing low-income drug users in San Francisco and it’s amazing how differently the war on drugs is experienced across class-lines. As a colleague said, “Everybody uses drugs, only some people go to prison.” Thanks again.

  • http://feministing.com/members/tootty86/ Abbi Davies

    What happens if they fail the drug test? Are they refused their welfare?

    Regardless of the answer to that, it is entirely wrong to subject some people to searches/tests, and not others.

    • http://feministing.com/members/franziakafka/ Franzia Kafka

      What happens if they fail the drug test? Are they refused their welfare?

      I’m assuming this is where the “savings” Florida Batshit-Governor-in-Residence Rick Scott was claiming taxpayers could get out of the drug testing: From refusing drug-positive applicants their benefits.