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Bill calls for drug tests in middle school

Picture a middle school where pupils are quietly taken away to be tested for drugs.

That is state Sen. Ron Silver's vision for Florida.

The Democrat from North Miami Beach, who said he experimented with marijuana in college, has filed a bill that would set up random drug testing for middle and high school students in public schools, and stop kids who aren't drug free from getting driver's licenses.

"I don't see a problem with this if you do it the right way," said Silver, a lawyer usually considered an ally of liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. For example, he said schools could "keep it quiet" on which students would be tested on a given day.

The ACLU says Silver is heading down a path that could violate constitutional rights.

"What kind of message are you sending to kids? I'd say the message is you have no right of privacy and the government can do anything it wants," said ACLU lobbyist Larry Spalding.

Now, the law allows school officials to search a student's locker if they have reasonable suspicion that an illegal substance or object is inside. Federal courts have upheld random drug testing for athletes.

Spalding said testing to ensure the integrity of sports programs is limited in scope. He doesn't think courts would uphold widespread student drug testing.

Education Commissioner Frank Brogan is concerned about the cost of such a program as well, a spokesman said. There are more than 1-million middle and high school students in Florida, and the fee for a drug test could range from $10 to $35, according to a legislative analysis.

Silver said his bill is not likely to get approval from the House and Senate this session because of the constitutional issues involved. But he would at least like to open a debate on the issue. Tuesday, he asked that the Senate Education Committee postpone action on his bill because there wasn't ample time to discuss it.

Silver said he spoke to President Clinton about the issue last week, when Clinton visited Florida. The president said he would arrange an appointment between Silver and White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey, Silver said.

Recent studies showing increasing use of drugs by teens prompted him to file the bill, Silver said. He acknowledged that he tried marijuana once or twice as a college student about 30 years ago.