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Bill to drug test state workers passes House

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers approved a plan to allow random drug tests of state employees Friday, while rejecting an amendment that would require similar tests for themselves and the governor.

The proposal, which has been clouded over questions about its constitutionality, passed the House, 79-37, with Republicans backing the measure amid outcry from Democrats.

"There were over 141,000 (drug-related) arrests last year," said Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, who is sponsoring the bill. "This is not to do drug testing because they're state workers. This is to do drug testing for one problem: drugs in Florida."

The bill, which also passed its final Senate committee on Friday, would allow state agencies to randomly test up to 10 percent of their workforce once every three months. It would also allow agencies to fire employees the first time they test positive. Current law only allows random drug testing for "safety sensitive" positions and prohibits agencies from firing workers who test positive once, requiring treatment programs instead.

Smith called the push to include elected officials in the drug-testing program "political theater," and has claimed the Supreme Court has already ruled against the practice.

"It was found to be unconstitutional to drug test elected officials because it prevents us, as citizens, from having that First Amendment right," Smith said last week.

That has drawn criticism from fellow lawmakers, who called the position "hypocritical."

"I have to conclude that this is an elitist legislative body not prepared or courageous to lead by example," said Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, who was behind the amendment. "Shame on you."

A Senate committee voted to move the plan forward on Friday, with some lawmakers arguing that leadership already has the authority to create a drug-testing plan for elected officials. While several legislators have voiced support for testing politicians, no such plan has been adopted.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said he supported drug testing for elected officials but voted to freeze the amendment on constitutional grounds.

"I think it's sad that a court has ruled that elected officials and the governor cannot be drug tested, and that's why that amendment wasn't put on," he said. "But I think we should be drug tested."

But the courts have also questioned whether testing state workers randomly and without suspicion is a violation of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which prohibits illegal search and seizure.

After Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order last year requiring random drug testing at some state agencies, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sued him, and the case is pending in federal court.

Last month, a federal judge in Miami said she had "trouble understanding the circumstances under which the executive order would be valid."

Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, was among a group of Democrats arguing that the plan amounted to unconstitutional government intrusion, calling it legislative "bullying."

"Why don't we just pass a law that says we'll go out and we'll go into public workers' homes and go in their bathrooms?" he said in a sharp-tongued floor speech to his colleagues.

"You'd be okay with that, but you don't want to do it to the governor, you don't want to do it to us. I'll tell you what you're doing, you're being bullies."

Bill to drug test state workers passes House 03/02/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 2, 2012 10:29pm]
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