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Appeals Court Blocks Drug Testing Of Welfare Applicants



Florida officials had argued that the state has a special need to test applicants to the program, because drug use undermines the program’s goals of moving recipients into employment and promoting family stability.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday blocked Florida’s efforts to test welfare applicants for drug use.

Without striking down the drug-testing requirement, the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held that Florida had not shown a “special need” that justified suspending Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

The ruling casts doubt on a handful of similar laws passed by Republican-controlled legislatures since 2011.

The Wall Street Journal reports only Florida and Georgia have laws that allow drug testing of all welfare applicants. Arizona, Missouri, Utah and Oklahoma have laws that permit drug testing when there is suspicion of drug use by applicants, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The ruling affirmed a lower court’s decision temporarily suspending the requirement, enacted in May 2011. Unless Florida appeals the decision, the case will return to a federal district judge, who will determine whether the law is constitutional.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott called the ruling “disturbing” and vowed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Drug use by anyone with children looking for a job is totally destructive. This is fundamentally about protecting the well being of Florida families,” he said in an emailed statement.

The case involves Luis Lebron, a Navy veteran, who sought to participate in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which provides eligible families up to $241 a month. He refused to submit to Florida’s mandatory drug tests and filed a lawsuit, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“From the very day this legislation was filed in 2011, we have consistently argued that it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment,” said Maria Kayanan, associate legal director of the ACLU of Florida.

Florida officials had argued that the state has a special need to test applicants to the program, because drug use undermines the program’s goals of moving recipients into employment and promoting family stability.

The 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, said the state failed to show a direct threat to public safety that would justify testing without suspicion of wrongdoing.

“The answer to that question of whether there is a substantial special need for mandatory suspicionless drug testing is ‘no,’” wrote Judge Rosemary Barkett, an appointee of President Bill Clinton. Judge James R. Hall and Judge Kent A. Jordan, both appointees of President George W. Bush, joined Judge Barkett in the ruling.

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