Legislature pushing bill to allow random drug testing of state workers


Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 10:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 10:27 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — The Republican-led Florida Legislature is pushing ahead with a bill that would allow random drug testing of state workers and other public employees every three months, despite ongoing questions about the legality of the plan.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered random testing of state workers last year, but he put most of the testing on hold after he was sued.

Legislative panels in both the House and Senate, however, on Wednesday voted in favor of a drug-testing bill that would give public employers the ability to fire a public employee following one positive test that is confirmed.

Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, did not assert that there is a widespread drug problem among public employees. Instead he said he is trying to change what he called society’s growing acceptance of drug use.

“It’s a tool in the toolbox to fight the drug epidemic,” said Smith, who last year sponsored a bill that mandated drug testing of welfare recipients.

But he added that “the first drug-free workplace should be the one that taxpayers pay for.”

The American Civil Liberties Union — which challenged Scott’s executive order as well as the welfare drug testing law — asserted that courts have routinely found that random drug tests violate the Fourth Amendment ban against unreasonable searches unless there is a special need such as the employee carries a gun or works in law-enforcement.

“People don’t sacrifice their constitutional rights just because they become employees of the state,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “The Legislature has no power to authorize government agencies to violate the Fourth Amendment.”

Simon predicted that passage of the bill would only “cost the taxpayers of Florida more money.”

Members of the House Government Operations subcommittee debated whether allowing drug tests every three months was too excessive and whether it would be costly for state and local governments to pay for the tests.

Smith said that testing yearly would allow employees to be able to avoid detection and that there should be a smaller time period in between tests in order to discourage drug use.

Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, criticized the bill (HB 1205) because employees could be fired immediately instead of giving them a chance to get treatment.

“It’s cold-hearted to tell someone you’ve made a mistake and you’re gone,” Clemens said.

The Senate Health Regulation Committee also debated the drug testing bill (SB 1358). Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami, wanted to give employees a six-month grace period from any future drug tests if they had a negative drug test.

But Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla and the Senate sponsor, successfully argued that would just encourage employees to use drugs during that length of time.

“This employee says ‘Hot diggity, I got six months of guaranteed free time,’” Hays said.

The House subcommittee voted 9-4 in favor of the legislation, which has two more stops before it goes to the full House.

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