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It's time for Florida to get out of the drug testing business

The first anniversary of Florida's drug testing crusade recently passed without celebration. No card, no cake, no outbreak of song.

That seems terribly insensitive. Almost rude. And so today I propose we belatedly honor state-run drug testing in the kindest way possible:

By killing it.

Lock, stock and pee cup.

For if the past year has taught us anything, it is that drug testing by your state government is a spectacularly bad idea on almost every level.

Florida has taken three different stabs at drug testing in the past year, and none of the programs are currently operational. They all remain in legal limbo, and apparently no one outside of Tallahassee seems to care.

Why is that?

Well, it could be because virtually every legal opinion seems to agree that these tests violate the Fourth Amendment. Michigan tried a similar program a decade ago, and was told to go back and re-read the U.S. Constitution. It could be because a lot of folks have spotted the hypocrisy of lawmakers demanding state employees be drug-tested, while exempting themselves from this wee indignity.

Or it could be because the state lost tens of thousands of dollars when its welfare drug testing program was up and running for a handful of weeks last summer.

So few people tested positive (2.6 percent) that the state spent more money on the tests themselves than it actually saved in welfare benefit denials. Which is exactly what a state-commissioned study had predicted when it said this was a stupid idea.

Need I go on?

Honestly, this isn't even a political issue. It's not liberal versus conservative. It's not Republican versus Democrat, and it's not rich versus poor.

You know what it is?

Wishful thinking versus reality.

As the governor and legislators have pointed out, these laws have a certain common-sense appeal to them. I mean, who's in favor of welfare recipients spending money on pot? And who wants the clerk at the DMV to be blissfully stoned on pills?

The problem is that pesky Constitution.

You can't wear your little flag lapel pins while worshipping the glory of democracy, and then try to circumvent its meaning whenever freedom becomes inconvenient for you.

Gov. Rick Scott spent a good deal of time last year explaining that private businesses are allowed to drug test, and so the government should have the same right.

Wrong!

The government is too powerful to be allowed to do whatever is on the mind of today's elected leaders. Because once we begin chipping away at our freedoms, the ramifications down the road are too frightening to consider.

Opinion polls show that Floridians are overwhelmingly in favor of drug testing of welfare applicants. Of course they are. In a simple yes-or-no poll question, the concept of making sure tax money doesn't end up in Cheech and Chong's bong seems a no-brainer.

But most polls don't follow up by asking this:

Would you be in favor of drug testing of welfare applicants if it means the law will likely be tied up in litigation for years, may cost millions of dollars to defend and has virtually no chance of winning based on case precedent?

Would you be in favor of welfare drug testing if studies have suggested — and small sample sizes have proved — that the law is an economic loser for taxpayers?

Would you be in favor of drug testing of state employees if you knew those tests would include additional medical information and be kept in a database that would be accessible to law enforcement agencies?

No one likes to be accused of hypocrisy, but Scott almost invites the charge. He was the tea party governor who wanted a less intrusive government that wouldn't waste taxpayer dollars. And yet he continues pushing a drug testing policy that is the most intrusive in the nation, and seems to be wasting taxpayer dollars.

So do yourself a favor.

The next time a pollster calls and asks what you think about drug testing of state employees or welfare recipients, give him a simple answer:

Tell him to zip it.

John Romano can be reached at romano@tampabay.com.

It's time for Florida to get out of the drug testing business 04/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 21, 2012 8:20pm]
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