U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven struck down as unconstitutional Florida’s mandatory, warrantless, suspicionless drug testing law, that required welfare recipients to pee in a cup before they could receive benefits. While Florida Governor Rick Scott, as pig-headed about civil rights as our own Captain Zero was, will almost certainly appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the law is pretty clear. As Judge Scriven said, “The court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.”
Governor Scott is worried that government benefits might be spent on drugs. So are the governors of 10 other states. But his mistake was to impose the requirement only on welfare benefits. If Florida wants to go down this path, it should be applied to all government benefits. So, for example:
• You want a mortgage interest deduction on your house payments? Pee in a cup.
• You want long term capital gains treatment on your taxes? Pee in a cup.
• Want your social security check? Pee in a cup.
• Want to visit a national park? Pee in a cup.
• You want to drive on public roads built with public taxes? Pee in a cup.
Governor Scott’s approach is so narrow and so limited that even WC’s modest expansion of his proposal points out the inherent bias in the drug testing requirement as presently drafted. Florida’s law is aimed at the poor, and racial minorities are over-represented among the poor.
Of course, it’s also stupidly expensive, costing more to operate than it saves the government. The positive test results were just 2.8%; 108 out of 4,086 persons tested, according to Florida’s records. Florida’s own records show the program costs more to administer than it “saves” in denied benefits.
If Governor Scott really wanted to keep government benefits from being diverted to drugs, he’d follow WC’s suggestion and extend the requirement to all government benefits. Not just the pitifully insufficient welfare benefits begrugingly paid to the poorest Americans for, at most, five years. But an extension to all government benefits would provoke a political firestorm. As well as underlining the economic and racial biases implicit in these idiot laws.
Since the law was enacted in 2011, the reasoning – for a given definition of “reasoning” – behind the law has shifted. Now, Governor Scott says it is necessary to “protect the children.” Given that we are mostly talking about marijuana here, it’s not clear exactly what “the children” are being protected from by denying them food. And recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York might suggest there are much more critical issues involved in “protecting the children.”
The poor, like their more affluent fellow citizens, are protected from unreasonable searches. Governor Scott needs to get over it.
But if he’s determined to proceed then, yeah, WC could get behind mandatory drug testing for all federal benefits. To protect the children.