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Scott takes drug testing of welfare recipients to Supreme Court

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott will appeal a federal court ruling upholding a ban on drug testing of Florida welfare recipients.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta found that Scott’s lawyers did not make the case for lifting the injunction on the urine tests for people applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. A federal judge in Florida issued the temporary injunction in October 2011, finding the law – pushed by Scott in his first year in office – violated the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

The three-judge panel agreed.

“The simple fact of seeking public assistance does not deprive a TANF applicant of the same constitutional protection from unreasonable searches that all other citizens enjoy,” wrote Judge Rosemary Barkett in the 38-page opinion.

But Scott issued a statement said he would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The court’s ruling today is disturbing. Welfare is 100 percent about helping children. Welfare is taxpayer money to help people looking for jobs who have children. Drug use by anyone with children looking for a job is totally destructive. This is fundamentally about protecting the wellbeing of Florida families. We will protect children and families in our state, and this decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court,” Scott, who is running for re-election next year, said.

U.S. District Mary Scriven has not yet ruled on whether to permanently strike down the law in the case filed by the ACLU of Florida on behalf of Luis W. Lebron. She could issue a ruling on that matter at any time, said Maria Kayanan, the lead ACLU lawyer in the case.

Both today’s ruling and Scriven’s opinion found that the plaintiffs are likely to win their arguments that the law is unconstitutional. Kayanan said Tuesday’s opinion showed that Scott’s administration has a “heavy burden” to prove that the law is not.

“After reading the court of appeals opinion, to ask the Supreme Court to review this decision is political theater based on ideology,” Kayanan said.

The court rejected all of Scott’s arguments that the law is necessary, including that there is a “special” reason for the government to require the drug tests.

And the court rejected Scott’s argument that the tests are needed to make sure that children whose parents receive the temporary cash aid are safe and that “none of the State’s asserted concerns will be ameliorated by drug testing.”

And the court rejected the argument that the urine tests are not an unconstitutional search because TANF recipients must “consent” to the drug tests in order to get benefits.

The mandated ‘consent’ the State relies on here, which is not freely and voluntarily given, runs afoul of the Supreme Court’s long-standing admonition that the government ‘may not deny a benefit to a person on a basis that infringes his constitutionally protected interests,’” Barkett wrote.

Filings in the case showed that the drug testing done by the Department of Children and Families was problematic. DCF stopped the tests after the Scriven blocked the law in October 2011.

UPDATE: Gov. Scott’s state worker drug testing unconstitutional, federal judge rules

Thursday, April 26th, 2012 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Scott said he will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that random, suspicionless drug testing of state workers is unconstitutional.

“As I have repeatedly explained, I believe that drug testing state employees is a common sense means of ensuring a safe, efficient and productive workforce. That is why so many private employers drug test, and why the public and Florida’s taxpayers overwhelmingly support this policy. I respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling and will pursue the case on appeal,” Scott said in a statement.

Gov. Rick Scott’s random drug testing of state workers is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled today.

Miami U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro Thursday morning ruling that random, suspicionless testing of some 85,000 workers violates the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures also raises doubts about a new state law quietly signed by Scott this spring allowing the governor’s agency heads to require urine tests of new and existing workers.

“To be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, a search ordinarily must be based on individualized suspicion of wrongdoing,” Ungaro wrote in her order issued this morning, citing previous U.S. Supreme Court orders which decided that urine tests are considered government searches.

Scott issued an executive order requiring random drug testing of new hires and all state workers after he took office last year. But he suspended the tests in June after labor unions and the ACLU challenged the order, objecting that the tests are a violation of the constitutional right to protection from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Instead, Scott limited his order for all but corrections officers pending the outcome of the Miami case.

Lawyers for AFSCME, the union representing government workers, and the ACLU argued that drug tests should only be ordered if a worker is suspected of a substance abuse problem or for employees in high-risk jobs. Previous Supreme Court decisions upheld drug testing in those jobs, Ungaro noted, or in cases involving school children.

Ungaro rejected Scott’s lawyers’ arguments and data showing that about 1 percent of workers at certain agencies who underwent the drug screens tested positive. And she was not persuaded by the governor’s arguments that private sector drug testing shows widespread drug use among workers. She also did not agree that prospective or current state workers could seek employment elsewhere if they object to the tests. New hires, but not current state workers switching jobs, could be required to take the tests, Ungaro ruled.

“All of the upheld drug-testing policies were tailored to address a specific, serious problem. In contrast, the rationale for the Governor’s policy consists of broad prognostications concerning taxpayer savings, improved public service, and reductions in health and safety risks that result from a drug-free workplace,” Ungaro wrote.

Lawyers for the union and the ACLU, who had expected Ungaro to rule as she did, nevertheless applauded the decision.

“With her order today, Judge Ungaro has protected the privacy and personal dignity of tens of thousands of Florida’s best and brightest – our state workforce,” said Alma Gonzalez, Special Counsel of AFSCME Council 79, which brought the suit. “There never was any evidence that state employees used drugs more than any other group so this was a case of using hard working state employees to score political points.”

Scott’s lawyers argued that the drug tests were necessary to combat drug abuse and ensure a more efficient workforce.

But individual rights to privacy trumped the government’s interest in those issues, Ungaro found.

“The fundamental flaw of the EO is that it infringes privacy interests in pursuit of a public interest which, in contrast to the concrete and carefully defined concerns in Skinner, Nat’l Treasury, and Vernonia, is insubstantial and largely speculative,” Ungaro wrote, referring to cases in which the Supreme Court upheld the tests.

And she also did not agree with Scott’s arguments that the drug tests were a part of Florida’s “transparent” government.

“The Governor’s reasoning is hardly transparent and frankly obscure. He offers no plausible rationale explaining why the fact that a state employee’s work product and financial status are publically accessible leads to the conclusion that the employee’s expectation of privacy in his or her bodily functions and fluids is then diminished. And in any event, no court has relied upon a policy of transparent government, embodied in laws such as those cited by the Governor, as sufficient to overcome a public employee’s reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of his or her urine. This Court sees no reason to be the first,” she wrote.

The new law, a priority of Scott’s which goes into effect on July 1, allows Scott’s agency heads to order the drug tests for up to 10 percent of their workers four times a year. Lawmakers did not include any additional funding for the urine tests, which run from $5 to $40, in the measure (HB 1205) in the state’s $70 billion budget, prompting some critics to question which services agencies will cut to absorb the costs. Workers can be fired if the drug screen is confirmed positive.

Nancy Argenziano drops out of U.S. House race, plans to run for state House instead

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 by Dara Kam

After failing to convince a judge to let her run in a Big Bend congressional race as a Democrat, former Public Service Commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano has switched gears and instead plans to again seek a state House seat.

Argenziano, a lifelong Republican who switched to the Independent Party last year, challenged a provision in Florida law that limits candidates from changing their party affiliation to a year before the qualifying period for the general election. The time constraint used to be six months, but was included in a sweeping election law signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June that is now being challenged by the Justice Department. A Tallahassee judge ruled in favor of the law last week.

Argenziano said she inadvertently switched her GOP party registration to the Independent Party shortly before the law went into effect last year instead of opting for no party affiliation, or “NPA,” which would have left her free to sign up as a Democrat.

Today, Argenziano said she’s dropping out of the race against incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, a Republican, because she won’t be able to raise the money to compete in the Panhandle race.

Instead, she’s going after the state House seat now held by Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, in her Citrus County home. Smith gained notoriety for sponsoring a controversial measure pushed by Gov. Rick Scott that would allow state agency heads to order random, suspicionless drug testing of state workers. Scott signed that into law this week and said he would immediately implement it before his office said he wouldn’t until a federal lawsuit regarding his executive order of the drug tests is settled.

“He does not have the knowledge, experience, or independence to represent them the way they deserve. He seems to be just another ‘go along’ elected official who does what he is told, rather then act on the basis of what his district needs. Most recently, his responses to questions regarding his bill mandating random drug testing of the most efficient public work force in the nation, were embarrassing,” Argenziano, who also served in the Florida Senate, said in a press release.

Argenziano said she’s going to run as an Independent “and return a sense of what it means to be a member of the legislature: to represent the people of the district in committee rooms and hallways; to represent them fairly and knowledgeably in the public square; to represent them against forces always conniving to get more than a fair share of the public resource.”

UPDATE: Gov. Scott will hold off on state worker drug tests

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Hours after Gov. Rick Scott said agencies under his control would begin drug-testing state workers, his administration issued a memo “clarifying” that the tests won’t begin until a legal battle is resolved.

Jesse Panuccio, Scott’s acting general counsel, sent a memo to agency heads Tuesday evening saying Scott’s June 10 decision to require drug testing only of Department of Corrections employees would remain in place until a lawsuit filed last year by the ACLU and state workers union is resolved.

“Because the legal case remains unresolved, the practical and logistical issues involved with implementing drug testing across all agencies remain the same,” Panuccio’s memo said.

Earlier Tuesday, when reporters asked Scott about the new law, which he signed Monday and which goes into effect on July 1, and whether he would require agency heads to begin ordering the state’s 100,000-plus employees to submit to random drug tests, he said, “Absolutely.”

Asked if Panuccio’s memo meant Scott was backing off what he said earlier, one of his spokesmen, Lane Wright, said, “In a nutshell, we’re not changing anything right now. We know that the litigation is pending. So we’re not jumping in and changing course right away. But the law provides that discretion so it allows that to happen but that’s not what we’re deciding to do at this point.”

Scott, however, appears to be drug testing employees in his inner circle. Secretary of State Ken Detzner told reporters on Tuesday that he submitted to the urinalysis after being appointed by Scott three weeks ago. His test, Detzner said, was clean.

Scott said he implemented the drug screens of executive office workers after he took office.

Scott orders agency heads to implement drug-testing law

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012 by Dara Kam

State agency heads will begin ordering the state’s 100,000-plus workforce to submit to random, suspicionless drug tests, Gov. Rick Scott said today, the day after he signed into law a measure allowing the drug screens.

Florida’s first-in-the-nation law gives agency heads, appointed by Scott, the discretion to order the urine tests for up to 10 percent of their employees four times a year.

But Scott told reporters this morning it’s not a question of “if” the agency chiefs will require the drug screens.

“Absolutely,” Scott said when asked if he would require his appointees to implement the new law, which goes into effect on July 1. “It’s a bill that I signed and we’ll comply with the bill.”

Scott said he has required the drug tests of governor’s office employees since he took office last year. Secretary of State Ken Detzner, appointed by Scott last month, told reporters this morning he had submitted a urine sample before taking the job – and passed.

Scott issued an executive order mandating the drug tests last year, but backed away from his plan after he was sued by the ACLU and the union representing government workers.

Scott in June limited his order for all but corrections officers pending the outcome of the case in which a federal judge in Miami heard oral arguments late last month.

That case is still pending, but Scott said he’s not going to wait for a decision before moving forward with the drug screens.

“First off, the law passed. And I believe in it. I want to have a qualified workforce. I think all citizens of Florida deserve that and that’s why I signed the bill,” Scott said.

The ACLU and Democratic lawmakers contend the law violates the constitution’s guarantee of unreasonable search and seizure by the government. And some lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Joe Negron of Stuart, objected that workers who drink alcohol the night before could have a positive test result even if they have not been drinking at work. Negron was the sole Republican senator to vote against the measure; three Republican House members also opposed it.

ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon called the new law an invitation to litigation.

“Gov. Scott signed this law in clear defiance of constitutional principles. It’s amazing that the Governor and the Legislature would move ahead with a law that so clearly violates the Constitutional protections against invasive government searches without suspicion – especially while a legal challenge on precisely the same issue is pending in the federal court,” Simon said in a press release. “The Governor’s preoccupation with pushing the limits of government searches is a costly legal gambit for taxpayers and makes a mockery of established Constitutional law. But it says a great deal that, after being such a cheerleader for invasive drug testing, the Governor signed this bill so quietly – almost in secret.”

Lawmakers did not include any money for the drug screens – which could cost between $50,000 and $400,000, assuming 10 percent of the state’s 114,000 workers would be required to take the tests – in the $70 billion budget they passed earlier this month.

Scott said he has not yet decided how to pay for the tests, and rejected objections from libertarians like Negron that the policy was over-reaching.

“I think the way to think about this is this is the goal – to make sure we have a qualified workforce. And that’s the focus of this. It’s’ not a focus on what government’s role should be,” Scott said.

Gov. Scott quietly signs state worker drug testing into law

Monday, March 19th, 2012 by Dara Kam

In less than three months, the state’s 100,000-plus workforce will be subject to random, suspicionless drug testing making Florida the first in the nation to impose the policy.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the state worker drug-testing measure (HB 1205) into law today without fanfare or comment.

The new law, a priority of Scott’s which goes into effect on July 1, allows Scott’s agency heads to order the drug tests for up to 10 percent of their workers four times a year. Lawmakers did not include any additional funding for the urine tests, which run from $5 to $40, in the measure (HB 1205) in the state’s $70 billion budget, prompting some critics to question which services agencies will cut to absorb the costs. Workers can be fired if the drug screen is confirmed positive.

As is always done when Scott signs a bill into law, his office issued a release about the drug testing measure late Monday evening. His letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner transmitting his approval did not include any comment on the plan although it has been a priority of Scott’s since he assumed office last year.

Scott issued an executive order mandating the drug tests last year, but backed away from his plan after he was sued by the ACLU and the union representing government workers. Scott in June limited his order for all but corrections officers pending the outcome of the case in which a federal judge in Miami heard oral arguments late last month.

The ACLU and Democratic lawmakers contend the law violates the constitution’s guarantee of unreasonable search and seizure by the government. And some lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Joe Negron of Stuart, objected that workers who drink alcohol the night before could have a positive test result even if they have not been drinking at work. Negron was the sole Republican senator to vote against the measure; three Republican House members also opposed it.

Scott last year also pushed the legislature to pass a law requiring that food stamp and emergency cash assistance applicants pass drug tests before receiving benefits. In October, a federal judge temporarily put that requirement on hold, ruling the drug screens were unconstitutional.

Drug testing state workers soon to become law

Friday, March 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

State workers would have to submit to random drug tests after the Senate signed off on a bill pushed by Gov. Rick Scott, certain to sign it into law once it reaches his desk.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure (HB 1205) by a nonpartisan 26-14 vote, rejecting concerns that suspicionless, random drug testing of government workers is unconstitutional, intrusive and demeaning to the state’s 100,000-plus workforce, most of whom have gone without a pay raise for six years.

“There’s been no predicate laid whatsoever on why we need to have this bill,” said Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican and self-described libertarian, adding that he has been in the legislature for more than a decade.

“I haven’t been running across drug-addled employees who are unable to do their jobs,” he said.

And the measure is overly intrusive, Negron said, because “your urine and your blood are extremely personal body fluids.”

But the bill sponsor Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, argued that public and private sector workers should be subjected to the same requirements and that the screening could help prevent addiction.

And, he said, not requiring the tests could be dangerous.

“What you’re going to create then is a haven for abusers,” Hays said. “Then drug abusers will know they’re safe if they come to work for the state of Florida.”

Scott’s legal team has helped the bill’s House and Senate sponsors persuade lawmakers that the drug screening will be upheld even as they defend the policy in court. The governor is being sued over a drug-testing policy he imposed on state workers last year. After the ACLU and the state workers’ union sued the state, Scott in June quietly reversed his order for all but corrections officers pending the outcome of the case.

Miami U.S. District judge Ursula Ungaro, who heard the case against Scott last week, expressed serious doubts about the governor’s order and “had trouble understanding the circumstances under which the order would be valid.”

The measure would allow Scott’s agency heads to decide whether they want to institute the policy and require that they use money already in their budgets to cover the costs of the tests, which range from $5 to $40.

State worker drug testing bill headed to Senate floor

Friday, March 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

Hours after the House signed off on a measure that would require state workers to submit to drug tests, the Senate Budget Committee sent an identical measure to the floor for a full vote.

With Scott’s legislative affairs director Jon Costello in the room, the Senate Budget Committee approved the measure with a 12-6 vote this afternoon.
Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart lawyer, cast the sole Republican “no” vote on the measure.

The measure is indicative of “more and more intrusive activities of our government,” Negron said after the meeting.

“It’s gotten out of hand. The government is just getting more and more into our personal business,” he said.

The proposal (SB 1358) would allow agency heads to fire state workers who fail their first drug test and does away with a requirement that workers who have drug problems receive employee assistance.

Democrats in both chambers have objected that the bill does not include lawmakers in the drug screening. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, already have the authority to order members of their chambers to submit to the drug tests, but neither leader has done so.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said he sponsored the bill at Scott’s request to rectify the problem created by the lawsuit.

“Unfortunately in today’s society, this is a bill that I feel is very wise public policy,” he said.

But Ron Bilbao of the Florida ACLU said the bill remains unconstitutional, noting that Miami U.S. District judge Ursula Ungaro, who heard the case against Scott last week, expressed serious doubts about the governor’s order and “had trouble understanding the circumstances under which the order would be valid.”

House passes random drug tests for state workers

Friday, March 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

State workers would have to agree to and submit to random, suspicionless drug tests under a measure approved along party lines by the GOP-dominated Florida House.

The bill, a priority of Gov. Rick Scott’s, would allow state agencies to order the tests of up to 10 percent of workers four times a year. Agency heads would have to use the money already in their budgets to cover the costs of the tests for the state’s 114,000 workforce.

Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, tried to amend the bill to require that the governor, members of the Florida Cabinet and the 160 members of the state House and Senate also be required to submit to the urine tests. The bill’s sponsor Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, dismissed the amendment, set aside over Pafford’s objection, as “political theater.”

But, calling the House an “elitist body,” Pafford chided his colleagues, saying “Shame on you,” for being unwilling to go on the board with a vote on his amendment.

Drug testing government workers is a violation of the constitution’s guarantee of unreasonable search and seizure by the government, Democratic lawmakers argued.

Last week, a federal judge heard oral arguments in a lawsuit over a challenge to a drug-testing policy imposed on state workers by Scott last year. After the ACLU and the state workers union sued the state, Scott in June quietly reversed his order for all but corrections officers pending the outcome of the case.

Scott last year also pushed the legislature to pass a law requiring that food stamp and emergency cash assistance applicants pass drug tests before receiving benefits. In October, a federal judge temporarily put that requirement on hold, ruling the drug screens were unconstitutional.

Rep. Perry Thurston, a lawyer, argued that Smith’s measure goes after the wrong population.

“You pick on people who you can bully around. Tell the lawyers of the Florida Bar as a condition of practicing law you’ve got to submit to suspicionless drug testing. That’s where you change society,” Thurston, D-Plantation, said.

Other Democrats called the proposal (HB 1205) a solution in search of a problem. Only two of 500 Department of Transportion – .004 percent – tested positive for drugs in recent screenings, Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, said.

But a fired-up Smith insisted his proposal (HB 1205) is necessary to combat drug abuse and said it would make Florida a model for the nation.

“People are dying. And then you make an assumption because these are state workers this doesn’t affect their lives,” Smith said. “The state of Florida by taking this vote becomes a laboratory that…eventually leads the way of the entire nation. You will be having the courage, making the difference, for this entire country.”

Smith made his final pitch before the 79-37 vote: “The word is on the street. People are starting to realize it. Drugs are bad.”

A Senate companion bill is scheduled for a vote in the budget committee this afternoon.

Scott’s legal team comes to defense of state worker drug testing bill

Friday, February 24th, 2012 by Dara Kam

State Rep. Jimmie Smith isn’t an attorney, as House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders pointed out during an “I’m-a-lawyer-and-you’re-not” debate over Smith’s bill that would require random drug testing of all state employees. In fact, Smith, R-Inverness, has a G.E.D.

But Gov. Rick Scott’s crack legal team has come to Smith’s defense on the controversial measure, similar to an executive order issued by Scott last year and argued in federal court on Wednesday. The ACLU and the union representing government workers sued Scott over the drug tests, and he backed away from his “pee in a cup” policy, limiting the drug tests to Department of Corrections workers.

Scott’s office provided a legal analysis for Smith, which he distributed to members of the House State Affairs Committee Friday morning before the panel approved the bill (HB 1205) by a 9-6 vote.

The 13-page memo, written by Scott’s deputy general counsel and Harvard Law School graduate Jesse Panuccio, outlines the legal arguments Panuccio made in the federal court case defending the drug testing, and refers to several cases in which courts ruled that drug testing government employees was acceptable.

Smith referred to the Scott’s packet several times during question-and-answer period and held his own against Democrats, who insisted the random, suspicionless, drug tests are illegal and an insult to state workers.

The requirement would further demoralize state workers, who have gone without a pay raise for six years and last year were forced to contribute 3 percent of their salaries towards their pensions, argued Rep. Dwight Taylor, D-Daytona Beach.

“Now you want them to prove they’re not doing drugs. In other words, you’re guilty. Now prove that you’re innocent. That’s not the way government should operate,” Taylor said.

Smith said he wants to cut back on Florida’s drug problem and that state workers should be treated the same as those who work for private companies, who are allowed to require drug tests.

“Let me be very clear. Drug abuse is a very real problem in the state of Florida,” Smith said. But, he insisted, “This bill does not suggest state workers are more likely to be drug users.”

Bondi pranks urine-seeking Daily Show prankster

Thursday, December 8th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A reporter with Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” came up empty-handed when he asked Gov. Rick Scott for a urine sample yesterday.

But Attorney General Pam Bondi was ready when Aasif Mandvi demanded the same of her Thursday afternoon. The former FOX News legal analyst handed Mandvi a small plastic cup labeled with her name containing an amber liquid.

“Wow. That’s very interesting. Well, that’s very interesting that you should say that. Because as attorney general, I’m always prepared,” Bondi told Mandvi after he asked her to fill a pee cup. The exchange took place inside the basement Cabinet meeting room in the Capitol after Bondi participated in an anti-casino press conference.

“You have a sample of your urine?” an apparently surprised Mandvi responded. “How do we know it’s your urine? How do we know it’s not just apple juice?”

“Thank you. Have a great day. Have a great day. My name’s on the top,” Bondi said before heading back to her office.

Outside the conference room, Mandvi uncapped the clear plastic container and discovered the AG had pranked him.

“Yeah. It’s apple juice. She gave me apple juice instead of urine,” Mandvi told a gaggle of Capitol reporters. “So I guess she’s saying that her drug habit is more important than the Florida tax payer…knowing where their money goes.”

Bondi spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said Bondi’s staff knew the Comedy Central crew were crawling the Capitol.

“We certainly tuned in to Gov. Scott’s press conference yesterday announcing the budget and when we knew Comedy Central was here we anticipated they would be interested in attending our press conference as well and planned accordingly,” Meale said.

On Wednesday, Mandvi interrupted Scott’s budget unveiling in the same meeting room to ask him to take a drug test. Mandvi was referring to drug testing Scott wants to require of all state employees and welfare recipients.

Scott didn’t comply with Mandvi’s request, but a few House members did, including Palm Beach County’s Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, according to The Daily Show crew. Other lawmakers who provided urine samples include Democratic Reps. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg and Scott Randolph of Orlando and Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami.

Both of the drug-testing laws are being challenged in court. Scott’s administration is defending the law requiring state workers to get tested and appealing a federal judge’s injunction against drug testing of welfare applicants.

Democratic senator urges Scott to drop drug-testing court fight

Monday, October 24th, 2011 by John Kennedy

A federal judge Monday temporarily halted drug-testing of Florida welfare recipients, siding with opponents of the new law championed by Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature.

U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven said the testing requirement amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure, chiding state lawmakers for ignoring an “overwhelming body of case law,” when they approved the measure last spring.

The legal challenge was brought by the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute, which hailed the judge’s decision.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa,  said Scott and state officials should just abandon efforts to defend the drug-testing policy for applicants for benefits under the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

“Not only is the new law a punishment for being poor, it’s a waste of tax dollars; the overwhelmingly majority of TANF applicants test negative,” Joyner said. “Now, taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars to reimburse these families for a test that exclusively benefits the drug testing industry.”

Since Florida’s new law testing welfare recipients took effect July 1, 7,030 passed, 32 failed and 1,597 did not provide results, according to Florida Department of Children and Families records.

The only other state to implement a similar drug-testing policy, Michigan, had its drug-testing law overturned in 2003 by a federal court.

ACLU sues Scott to overturn drug-testing of welfare recipients

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The ACLU of Florida said Wednesday it has sued the Gov. Rick Scott administration in federal court to overturn the state’s new law requiring mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients.

The lawsuit was filed in Orlando on behalf of Luis Lebron, a 35-year-old Orlando man, Navy veteran and University of Central Florida student. Lebron and his four-year-old son were declared eligible for benefits through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but Lebron refused to take the required drug test and has not received aid.

“It is a public policy that really rests on ugly stereotypes,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida ACLU.

Florida’s new law took effect July 1. Since then, the state’s Department of Children & Families reports that about 2.5 percent of applicants have tested positive for drugs and were denied personal benefits, although their family members still qualify.

But in its lawsuit, the ACLU maintains the requirement violates constitutional safeguards against unreasonable search and seizure by the government. The only other state to implement a similar policy, Michigan, had its drug-testing law overturned a decade ago, according to ACLU attorneys.

DCF Secretary David Wilkins, a Scott appointee, is named as defendant in the lawsuit.

The ACLU earlier sued Scott over his executive order requiring drug-testing of all new state hires and random screening of current state employees. Scott suspended the order in May for agencies other than the Department of Corrections, although he insisted the freeze would only be in place until the lawsuit was decided.

Scott names former Solantic CEO to Jax college board

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Once they were colleagues, he as owner and she as CEO of Solantic Walk-In Urgent Care, the multi-million-dollar clinic chain.

On Tuesday, Rick Scott and Karen Bowling, were brought together again, this time as a pair of public officials as the state’s Republican governor named his former top administrator to the board of trustees at Florida State College in Jacksonville.

Bowling was CEO at Solantic for the duration of Scott’s ownership of the company, which he had tranferred to his wife, Ann, shortly before taking office in January. Scott sold the company earlier this summer for an undisclosed amount — but purported to be around $50 million — to its minority shareholder, private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe of New York.

Scott had poured about $28 million of his own money into Solantic’s early founding. He and Bowling grew the firm to 32 clinics statewide, including two in Palm Beach County.

But Scott’s ownership also drew heat when his health care policies intersected with Solantic’s business model. He pushed — but later hit pause — on a plan to require drug-testing for state employees, while also signing into law a Medicaid overhaul that would put almost 3 million low-income, elderly and disabled Floridians into managed care.

Scott says pause in drug-testing, “just the process now”

Thursday, June 16th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott downplayed the implications of his decision to suspend his order that all state employees undergo pre-employment and random drug testing, saying Thursday he remains committed to screening.

The move came two weeks after the ACLU of Florida sued the governor, claiming testing was an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. Scott sent a memo last week to agency heads saying that only the Department of Corrections should go forward with implementing his March testing order until the outcome of the lawsuit, now in Miami federal court.

“We’re going forward with it,” Scott said. “We’ll continue to go forward…It’s just the process now.”

Scott also brushed off questions about whether he was concerned about the court overturning his order.

“The private sector does this all the time,” Scott said. “Our taxpayers expect our state employees to be productive…this is the right thing, and we’re going forward.”

UPDATE: Rick Scott willing to go to Supreme Court over drug testing state workers

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott is willing to take the fight over drug testing state workers all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, his spokeswoman said today in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

The civil rights organization filed the lawsuit challenging Scott’s executive order mandating drug testing of all state workers, arguing it is a violation of the constitution’s protection from unreasonable searches by government.

“The Governor is confident the courts will see that this policy makes sense and is legally sound, and he’ll take the law suit to the Supreme Court if that’s what it takes to implement a common sense policy that is appropriate and fair to tax payers. If it makes good business sense for private sector companies to drug test their employees, why wouldn’t it make good business sense for the state?” Scott spokeswoman Amy Graham said in an e-mail.

ACLU sues Rick Scott over state worker drug-testing

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011 by Dara Kam

The ACLU is challenging in federal court Gov. Rick Scott’s executive order forcing all state workers to undergo drug testing.

The civil rights organization filed the lawsuit in federal court in Miami yesterday accusing Scott of violating the constitution’s guarantee to be free from unreasonable searches by the government. The lawsuit also asks federal judge Ursula Ungaro to issue an injunction immediately stopping all drug-testing of the state’s 250,000 state workers.

ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon called Scott’s order “profoundly un-American” because it is conflicts with the Fourth Amendment put into the Bill of Rights in response to warrantless searches by King George’s troops during the American Revolution.

“It could not be more invasive of privacy,” Simon told reporters during a conference call this afternoon.

In 2004, the courts struck down a Florida Department of Juvenile Justice random drug testing policy. The court found that drug testing of state workers without reasonable suspicion was unconstitutional and awarded the plaintiff in that case $150,000.

Yesterday, Scott signed into law a measure requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug screening. That new law is unrelated to the executive order and to the case filed yesterday.

The lawsuit is the first in what is expected to be a slew of challenges to state laws passed by the legislature during the session that ended last month regarding abortion, elections and freedom of speech.

“It’s a tsunami of anti-civil liberties legislation,” Simon said.

Drug tests for welfare recipients now the law

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Welfare recipients, mostly women with children, will now have to be drug-free to receive cash benefits under a bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott today.

Under the new law, applicants for the benefits will have to pay for the drug tests but will get reimbursed if they are drug-free. If they’re not, their children will still be able to receive benefits through another family member or someone else designated by their parent.

More than 21,000 Floridians now receiving benefits as heads of households will now have to pay for and undergo the screening.

Scott and state lawmakers contend Florida needs the new law to stop welfare recipients from using the money to buy drugs. Opponents of the measure cite studies have shown that there’s no more widespread drug abuse among welfare recipients than the general public.

“While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction,” Scott said in a press release. “This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars.”

The ACLU of Florida blasted the new law.

“The wasteful program created by this law subjects Floridians who are impacted by the economic downturn, as well as their families, to a humiliating search of their urine and body fluids without cause or even suspicion of drug abuse,” said Howard Simon, the civil rights organization’s executive director.

A federal court in 2003 struck down a similar law, finding that it violated Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches.

Scott is also requiring state workers to undergo random drug tests, prompting threats of lawsuits. The ACLU is making an announcement regarding that policy tomorrow morning, indicating a lawsuit is likely.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Scott today also signed into law a bill banning certain bath salts that have resulted in a rash of overdoses in Florida and other states.

Attorney General Pam Bondi in January issued an emergency order criminalizing the sale of “bath salts” made up of the dangerous synthetic drug Methylenedioxypyrovalerone, or MDPV. The drug cocktail apparently gives users super-human strength.

Florida poison control centers have reported 61 calls of “bath salts” abuse, the second-highest volume of calls in the nation, according to Scott’s office.

Scott on Solantic: “I’m not involved”

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott offered little Tuesday when asked whether he would consider ending his family’s financial stake in Solantic, the urgent care company he founded and which provides drug-testing services.

Scott’s role in the firm was spotlighted when he signed an executive order ordering drug-testing for new state hires and random screening of current employees.

“As I’ve told you, I’m not involved in that company,” Scott said, refusing to directly answer whether he would consider prohibiting the state from contracting with the firm.

Scott, who reported a net worth of $218 million when he filed papers to run for governor last summer, had pledged to put his financial holdings into a blind trust, when elected. Instead, in January, Scott transfered his Solantic stock to his wife, Ann.

Scott built most of his wealth from growing Columbia/HCA health care into one of the nation’s biggest hospital chains. Three years after he left Columbia/HCA, the company paid $1.7 billion to end a federal investigation into accusations of Medicare fraud — the largest settlement of its kind in the nation’s history.

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