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Florida's Welfare Drug Testing Law Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that a 2011 law requiring welfare applicants to undergo drug tests is unconstitutional, striking a blow to Gov. Rick Scott's administration over the controversial tests.

A federal judge has ruled that a 2011 law requiring welfare applicants to undergo drug tests is unconstitutional, striking a blow to Gov. Rick Scott's administration over the controversial tests.

Scott quickly said he would appeal U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven'sTuesday ruling, the latest defeat for the governor in a drawn-out battle over drug testing some of the state's poorest residents.

Scriven ruled that the urine tests violate the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

In a harshly worded, 30-page opinion, Scriven concluded that "there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied."

Scott, who used the mandatory drug tests as a campaign issue, insists that the urine tests are needed to make sure poor children don't grow up in drug-riddled households.

"Any illegal drug use in a family is harmful and even abusive to a child. We should have a zero tolerance policy for illegal drug use in families — especially those families who struggle to make ends meet and need welfare assistance to provide for their children. We will continue to fight for Florida children who deserve to live in drug-free homes by appealing this judge's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals," Scott said in a statement after Tuesday's ruling.

At Scott's urging in 2011, the Legislature passed the law requiring all applicants seeking Temporary Assistance for Needy Families" — the "poorest of the poor" — to undergo the urine tests. Applicants had to pay for the tests, which cost about $35, up front and were to have been reimbursed if they did not test positive.

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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