Federal court hears challenge to drug screening welfare recipients

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida [official website] on Monday began reviewing the lawsuit challenging a Florida state law requiring drug testing before welfare applicants can receive benefits. Judge Mary Scriven heard arguments [ACLU press release] Monday on both the constitutionality of the drug testing law and whether plaintiff, Luis Lebron, could represent a class. The judge granted the Florida Department of Children and Families a two-week extension [AP report] to challenge a motion on whether Lebron's lawsuit can represent all Florida welfare applicants. The lawsuit was filed [JURIST report] earlier this month on behalf of a class led by Lebron, a 35-year-old Orlando resident, Navy veteran and full time University of Central Florida student who applied for temporary cash assistance to help support his four-year-old son. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLUFL) [advocacy website] filed the federal class action lawsuit [complaint, PDF; press release] seeking to enjoin implementation of the drug testing law.

In effect since July 1, the new law [Fla Stat 414.0652 text] was signed by Governor Rick Scott [official website] at the end of May and requires applicants for welfare benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) [official website] program to submit to and fund a urinalysis for substance screening. Individuals who pass receive reimbursement for the cost of the test, and those who fail lose their TANF benefits for one year. The ACLU complaint notes that the Supreme Court has held that suspicionless drug testing by the government is an unreasonable search that violates the Fourth Amendment, the only exceptions being for substantial public safety concerns and students in the public school system. TANF is a federal block grant program passed under 1996 welfare reform legislation aimed at turning welfare into a temporary assistance program. In June, the ACLUFL filed suit [JURIST report] challenging Scott's executive order mandating state agencies to enact pre-employment drug screening for all prospective employees and provide for random drug testing of all current agency employees regardless of classification.

 

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