Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Court upholds injunction on drug-testing Florida welfare recipients

TALLAHASSEE — A federal appeals court upheld the temporary ban on Florida's drug-testing for welfare recipients Tuesday, saying that a lawsuit challenging the program had a good chance of succeeding.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta sided with a lower-court decision, stating that Florida failed to show that the drug-testing plan was so critical that the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches by the government, should be suspended.

The decision — which did not weigh in on the ultimate constitutionality of the law — is the latest setback in Gov. Rick Scott's controversial drug-testing push. In 2011, Scott and the Florida Legislature instituted a program for drug-testing all recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Luis Lebron, a single father and TANF applicant who refused to take the test on constitutional grounds, filed a lawsuit with help from the American Civil Liberties Union.

In authoring the court's opinion, Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett said that Florida had not proved that its drug-testing program serves a "special" or "immediate" need, or that it even protected children in families with substance abuse.

"There is nothing so special or immediate about the government's interest in ensuring that TANF recipients are drug free so as to warrant suspension of the Fourth Amendment," Barkett wrote. "The only known and shared characteristic of the individuals who would be subjected to Florida's mandatory drug-testing program is that they are financially needy families with children."

Scott immediately vowed to appeal the decision and take his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The court's ruling today is disturbing," he said in a statement. "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 well-being of Florida families."

The appeals court relied on a similar case in Georgia, which struck down a program requiring political candidates to take drug tests. It was ruled Georgia didn't show there was a drug problem among elected officials, and the law was mostly "symbolic."

In rejecting Florida's appeal to the lower court's preliminary injunction, a trio of federal judges took a similar position.

"The State has presented no evidence that simply because an applicant for TANF benefits is having financial problems, he is also drug addicted or prone to fraudulent and neglectful behavior," Barkett wrote on behalf of the court.

ACLU associate legal director Maria Kayanan said the ruling was a vindication for struggling families who apply for government assistance.

"The state of Florida can't treat an entire segment of our community like suspected criminals simply because they are poor and are trying to get temporary assistance from the government to support their families," said Kayanan, who was lead counsel on the case.

Florida also passed a law last year requiring drug testing for all state workers, but that issue is also tangled in constitutional challenges and litigation. A district court found the state worker testing plan unconstitutional, and Scott appealed. The appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments on that case next month.

Toluse Olorunnipa can be reached at tolorunnipa@MiamiHerald.com or on Twitter at @ToluseO.

Court upholds injunction on drug-testing Florida welfare recipients 02/26/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 8:36am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trump says he didn't tape his conversations with Comey

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he "did not make" and doesn't have any recordings of his private conversations with James Comey — his fired FBI director.

    President Donald Trump speaks during the "American Leadership in Emerging Technology" event in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, June 22, 2017, in Washington. [AP Photo/Evan Vucci]
  2. St. Pete council advances limits on PAC money in city elections

    Blogs

    In front of large group of red-shirted supporters, the St. Petersburg City Council gave initial approval Thursday to an ordinance limiting campaign contributions to $5,000 from political action committees.

    A large crowd gathered Thursday to support passage of a controversial measure to limit campaign spending in city elections
  3. Bill Nelson on GOP health care bill: 'Now we know why they tried to keep this secret'

    Blogs

    WASHINGTON - Sen. Bill Nelson lashed out at the GOP health care plan released Thursday, deeming it "just as bad as the House bill."

    Reporters on Thursday wait for Republican senators to leave a briefing on the health care bill
  4. Video: Loggerhead sea turtle found in Islamorada resident's pool

    Wildlife

    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on Monday, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys.

    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on June 22, 2017, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys. [Photo from video]

  5. What Wilson Ramos will mean to the Rays lineup, pitching

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Archer was stumping for all-star votes for Corey Dickerson during a live interview Wednesday morning on the MLB Network when he lifted the right earpiece on his headset and said, "I hear a buffalo coming."

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Wilson Ramos (40) waves to the crowd after being presented with the Silver Slugger Award before the start of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.