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Gov. Rick Scott suspends drug test requirement for many state employees

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott has suspended his controversial executive order requiring random drug tests for thousands of state employees, saying he will now wait until a federal lawsuit challenging the policy is settled.

The March 22 executive order had been the target of a legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. The ACLU says the testing requirement is "suspicionless" and an illegal search and seizure.

In a memo to executive agency heads on June 10, Scott said he would halt the drug-testing policy while the lawsuit is pending. While Scott said he believed his order ultimately will be found to be constitutional, "it does not make sense for all agencies to move forward with the logistical issues involved in instituting the new policy."

The ACLU obtained the memo — which had not been publicized by the Governor's Office — late Wednesday.

The testing requirement targets a pool of about 80,000 state employees who work for agencies under the governor, but does not extend to agencies overseen jointly by the governor and Cabinet, such as the departments of Revenue and Education or the Public Service Commission.

Scott said during a Thursday news conference that the memo suspending the testing program did not signal a concession.

"Look, the private sector does this all the time," he said. "Our taxpayers expect our state employees to be productive, and this is exactly what the private sector does. It's the right thing and we're going forward."

Drug testing will continue for employees at the Department of Corrections as a type of pilot program, Scott said. The agency already tests about 21,000 correctional and probation officers, said department spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger. Scott's directive means all employees will be subject to random drug testing, including administrative staff members.

"Anyone within our agency can be called to a prison in an emergency situation, so it's vital that everyone within our agency is drug-free," she said.

The suspension of the order also does not affect a new law requiring drug tests for Floridians who apply for temporary cash welfare assistance. That law is scheduled to take effect July 1.

Still, ACLU of Florida leaders celebrated Scott's decision. Executive director Howard Simon called it "nothing less than a massive and embarrassing retreat on the part of Gov. Scott."

But Scott's delay does not invalidate his order, so the ACLU will not back off of its lawsuit, said ACLU spokesman Derek Newton. The group contends that random testing was ruled unconstitutional in a 2004 case against the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

The ACLU is representing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the country's largest union for state workers. No individual employees are part of the lawsuit.

An original plaintiff, St. Petersburg's Richard Flamm, was removed from the lawsuit after learning that the state drug tests would not apply to his workplace, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Katie Sanders can be reached at ksanders@sptimes.com or (850)224-7263.

Gov. Rick Scott suspends drug test requirement for many state employees 06/16/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 17, 2011 2:47am]

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