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Strippers, booze and slots soon to be off-limits for welfare recipients

Friday, April 26th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Florida welfare recipients won’t be allowed to use state-issued debit cards at strip joints, liquor stores or casinos under a bill on its way to Gov. Rick Scott, who is certain to approve the measure.

The Florida Senate unanimously approved the measure with no debate this morning.

House sponsor Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, says the bill (HB 701) is needed to comply with a federal law banning the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or “TANF,” at liquor stores, gambling locales or places that specialize in adult entertainment, including porn shops. Smith said needs to act before Feb. 14 or risk losing out on 5 percent of the funds for the program.

The bill (HB 701) which bans the state’s poorest-of-the-poor from using the debit cards at liquor stores, adult entertainment establishments – including porn shops – and other gaming establishments.

“This is a victory for Florida taxpayers who can now know that their hard-earned tax dollars are truly being used to help needy families get back on their feet so they can become independent and self-sufficient,” Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins said in a statement.

The federal “Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012” requires states to maintain policies to prevent cash assistance “from being used in any electronic benefit transfer transaction in any liquor store; any casino, gambling casino, or gaming establishment; or any retail establishment which provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state for entertainment.”

TANF recipients receive debit cards, or “EBTs,” which they can use to get cash from ATMs or to make purchases. Unlike food stamps, there are no restrictions on what items can be bought with the cards.

A year before the federal law was passed, a Florida representative proposed similar restrictions in response to a television expose, later substantiated by state officials, that found that of 1.3 million transactions totaling nearly $202 million over a two-year period in Florida, about $93,000 was drawn at places with liquor licenses, strip clubs or gambling sites.

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.

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.

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.

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