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PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact Florida: Rep. Trey Radel's cocaine record would bar him driving Lee County school bus

U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers, is back to work in Congress following a few weeks in rehab after he got busted for cocaine possession in Washington.

He's lucky he has that job, some say. With a drug arrest on his record, he wouldn't be eligible for a host of other gigs — like driving a bus in his own district.

Radel's conviction has prompted some high-profile Republicans to call for his ouster. Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott vowed to be a "staunch advocate for (Radel's) political replacement" and unleashed this attack:

"While Radel returned to his congressional office following a microwave stint in rehab and a gaggle of rehearsed apologies, I have hundreds of inmates in our jail that are unable to return to their home due to similar or lesser drug offenses," Scott wrote Jan. 11 on Facebook. "The sad reality is that Trey Radel does not even qualify to drive a Lee County school bus at this point, yet he occupies a seat in Congress."

Does Radel's cocaine possession conviction mean he would not meet the qualifications to drive a Lee County school bus?

On Oct. 29, Radel was nabbed after he bought 3.5 grams of cocaine for $260 from an undercover agent in the District of Columbia. He then brought agents to his apartment, where he handed over a vial of cocaine. Radel kept his case quiet until it reached court a few weeks later, and then the news exploded about the 37-year-old TV reporter turned tea party freshman busted for cocaine.

On Nov. 20, Radel pleaded guilty to misdemeanor cocaine possession and was sentenced to one year of probation. Radel spent about a month in rehab and returned to Congress in early January.

If he had been arrested for cocaine possession in Florida, he would have faced a felony charge.

"Possession of cocaine in any amount is a felony in Florida," Scott said in an email. Three and a half grams "would constitute a third-degree felony, while greater quantities and/or trafficking amounts can escalate the degree of seriousness."

Across the country, a misdemeanor drug possession statute isn't unusual, though felonies appear to be more of the norm.

Now, what would Radel's conviction mean as far as applying to be a Lee County school district bus driver?

The Lee County School District won't hire an individual — including a bus driver — who has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge less than five years ago or a felony drug charge less than 10 years old, or someone who is currently on probation, said Ranice Monroe, the school district's director of professional standards and equity.

Even if a defendant gets an adjudication withheld, the district won't hire the individual, Monroe said.

"Our standards are high," he said. "We don't make exceptions."

If someone was already a bus driver and then pleaded guilty to a drug charge, the employee would face discipline including the potential of being fired, Monroe said.

"What we perceive is you are taking drugs, which is a violation of our rules," she said.

We also contacted spokespersons for a few other Florida school districts to ask if a cocaine possession conviction would make a school bus driver candidate ineligible. Policies vary from similar in Miami-Dade to Pasco, where guidelines call for a committee review but not automatic denial of employment for drug convictions.

Now, school bus drivers must have a commercial driver's license.

A cocaine possession plea "in and of itself would not necessarily prevent a person from obtaining a CDL or result in a revocation of a CDL," John Lucas, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles told PolitiFact in an email. "That decision would have to come from the courts. However, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles could take action if the person was found to be in possession of cocaine while operating a commercial vehicle."

So, Radel's future as a congressman may be in the hands of the voters of southwest Florida. But the Lee County sheriff is correct that Radel's drug conviction has put the brakes on him becoming a bus driver.

We rate this claim True.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.

The statement

"Trey Radel does not even qualify to drive a Lee County school bus at this point, yet he occupies a seat in Congress."

Mike Scott, Lee County sheriff, Jan. 11 in a Facebook post

The ruling

Politifact ruling: True
Lee County school district policies state that it won't hire anyone currently on probation or who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge within the past five years, or a felony drug charge in the past decade. We rate this claim True.

PolitiFact Florida: Rep. Trey Radel's cocaine record would bar him driving Lee County school bus 01/19/14 [Last modified: Sunday, January 19, 2014 6:54pm]
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