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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.”

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.”

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