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Friday, October 28, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott’s callous and condescending plan to drug-test welfare recipients has been demolished by a federal appeals court.

In a 54-page rebuke, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vigorously upheld a lower court’s ruling that it’s unconstitutional to make welfare applicants undergo warrantless and “suspicionless” drug screens, as mandated in a law championed and signed by Scott.

“The State has failed to establish a demonstrable or peculiar drug-use problem among (welfare applicants),” the three-judge panel said unanimously. “If anything, the evidence extant suggests quite the opposite.”

Scott’s law, it concluded, “offends the Fourth Amendment,” which protects Americans against unreasonable search and seizure.

The opinion was written by Judge Stanley Marcus, not exactly a raging liberal. A former organized-crime prosecutor and U.S. Attorney in Miami, Marcus was nominated for the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan.

Although experts had warned that Florida’s broad drug-testing statute wouldn’t survive a court challenge, Scott and the Republican-led Legislature sanctimoniously charged ahead. Now the state’s clanking legal appeals are costing taxpayers a fortune.

The man who upended the law was Luis W. Lebron, a Navy veteran and college student in Orlando. At the time the ACLU filed suit on Lebron’s behalf, he was the single father of a young child, and was also taking care of his disabled mother.

He’d applied for benefits under a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The maximum amount he could have received was about $241 monthly over a cumulative period not to exceed 48 months.

At first Lebron consented to a urine test, but later changed his mind. The Department of Children and Families then said he was ineligible for benefits.

The controversial drug law was in effect less than four months before a court intervened in 2011. The state insisted it had the right to require urine tests (paid for by the applicants themselves) in order to protect their children.

As witnesses it offered a Georgetown University psychiatrist who had done some reading on the subject, and two DCF employees who told anecdotes about possible drug use among TANF recipients.

One of the workers said he had “personally detected the odor of marijuana on applicants.” The other said he often met welfare cases who had slurred speech or bloodshot eyes.

That was basically Scott’s whole case. It was shamefully weak.

Marcus ruled that the state “presented no evidence that children of TANF parents face a danger or harm from drug use that is different from the general threat to all children in all families.”

He pointed to a 2000 study done by DCF itself, called the Demonstration Project. Only 335 out of 6,462 TANF applicants tested positive for drugs.

That trend of relatively low usage was “altogether consistent” with data collected 11 years later, after Scott’s law took effect. Of 4,046 TANF applicants who gave urine samples, a measly 2.67 percent tested positive.

By contrast, the rate for the general population is 9.2 percent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

About a third of those who started a TANF application didn’t finish it, and never took the drug screen. There’s no way to determine if they were substance users, couldn’t afford the test — or were simply offended by the idea of it.

“Citizens,” wrote Marcus, “do not abandon all hope of privacy by applying for government assistance.”

In another case arising from the governor’s urine crusade, the 11th Circuit also struck down his initiative to randomly drug-test state employees for pot, meth, coke, opiates and PCP.

Among those who would have been excluded from that dope screen were Scott himself and all 160 elected members of the House and Senate. Several times I’ve offered to pay the cost for each of them to pee in a cup and send it to a lab, yet there’s no enthusiasm in Tallahassee for that proposal.

Why not? An impaired public official can do way more harm than an impaired unemployed person.

If the governor and legislators are so worried about drug use by others, they should stand up (or sit down) and do the right thing.

Set an example by giving a sample.

If you can’t prove that you’re smart, at least prove that you’re clean.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

  • Lynda Groom

    Well now the governor can try and find something else to waste the taxpayers hard earned money upon. This was a red herring from the get go, and only benefited the testing companies and did nothing to reduce the cost of the states safety net. Of course it was never intended for such a purpose as the gov knows full well.

    • jakenhyde

      Scott, himself, is a red herring. So why in the world did the people of Florida re-elect such a abject disgrace of a man?????

      • Lynda Groom

        That is the $64 thousand dollar question for the citizens of Florida. Knowing full well what a disgrace Scott is they still voted him back into office. I guess they enjoy being bitch slapped every now and then.

        • Independent1

          Scott won probably due to Crist not really being a Democrat which may have resulted in less enthusiasm from Dems. Also, the 2014 election saw the lowest voter turnout in decades (around 40%) when even large chunks of Republicans stayed home – unfortunately, just as large or bigger chunks of Dems stayed home.

          Of course, Florida’s voter suppression efforts and its gerrymandering didn’t help the Dems either.

    • johninPCFL

      You’re missing the point that Scott started a line of medical clinics that would be doing the testing before running for governor. Why else invest tens of millions of your own money for a job that pays a tenth of a million per year?
      He “sold” them to friends after a stock transfer to his wife failed to mollify those crying foul. How long will it take him to “buy back” his clinics once he’s out of office? I think nanoseconds is too long a timeframe.

      • Independent1

        So, if you think he’s looking to buy back those medical clinics that did the testing when he’s no longer governor, then that was a good incentive for him to keep them healthy financially by ensuring they had a steady flow of testing work via his drug testing legislation for TANF applicants. There’s always money involved (for them) when Republicans do virtually anything while they’re responsible for governing.

        • johninPCFL

          I’ll take it one step further. I think it was a complete fraud, that ownership of the clinics never transferred, and that his entire state program has been formulated to ensure that his clinics have a steady stream of state-mandated cases to put money straight into his pockets. After all, a guy who can plan out the biggest Medicare fraud in US history should have little trouble defrauding a backwater state like Florida.

    • dana becker

      The very clinics HE OWNS. When conflict of interest accusations occurred he did what any crooked politician would do. Give the company to his wife. As if Scott would no longer profit because of that. Right.

  • FireBaron

    Naturally, the elected officials would ensure they were not subject to the same laws they try to impose on others.

  • midway54

    The hairless cypher has been elected for another term, thanks to the plentiful supply of redneck yahoos and fellow Teabaggers in Florida. who also gave us Rubio and the clown prince Alan West, who was voted out of office after one term in the House only because his district was modified in a way that brought in saner voters. Rubio, an opportunistic compliant hack for the plutocray needs to be voted out in 2016.

    • Independent1

      Two things that allowed Scott to get re-elected were: 1) Crist isn’t a true Democrat – he’s a Republican lite and 2) the voter turnout for the mid-term was one of the lowest in decades – there was only about a 40% turnout. It’s clear that large chunks of Democrats, and Republicans stayed home. Unfortunately for us, a bigger chunk of the Democrat electorate stayed home. It appears that voters of both parties are feeling disenchanted with how politics have been going, not only in Florida, but the nation where the national turnout only averaged 36% – the lowest turnout in 72 years.

      The GOP won back a lot of Senate seats – but only in what are really Red States – they didn’t win one Senate seat in a Blue state. And although the won some governorships, the Dems actually tightened their legislative majorities in most blue states and even made inroads in some Red State legislatures.

      Aside from the Senate seats and the governorships, the Dems virtually won everything else in the mid terms – every single ballot issue went the way Dems would like to see – including all the ballot issues on the min wage in Red States and all the GOP’s personhood initiatives were defeated. So, all in all, it really wasn’t a good mid-term for the GOP – despite how it may look in Congress. The message voters sent to the GOP wasn’t good. (Oh yes, Voter suppression and gerrymandering were also factors in the GOP’s wins in addition to super low voter turnout,)

      • midway54

        Thanks very much for your detailed reply.

  • elw

    Good news, but he will try again. The GOP has no shame.

  • plc97477

    Great last line.”If you can’t prove that you are smart, at least prove that you are clean.”

  • coffeeHouse1982

    Obama lied to the American Medical Association on June 15, 2009 when he claimed that you would be able to keep your doctor.

    • Independent1

      Sorry, but Obama DID NOT lie!! It was the health care company CEOs who LIED!!

      ACA included a provision that grandfathered all policies (and the doctors) of people who were already insured on 1/1/14 when it became effective. When ACA was being developed, more than 1/2 a dozen CEOs of the nation’s largest health insurers met with Obama in the White House. After the meeting, they promised Obama that they would do everything they could to make the implementation of ACA go seemlessly and would abide by all its provisions. OBVIOUSLY THEY LIED.

      Obama continued to tell Americans that they could keep their existing policies and doctors, BECAUSE HE TRUSTED THAT THESE HEALTHCARE CEOS WOULD KEEP THEIR WORD – WHICH THEY DID NOT!!!!!!

      Just shortly before ACA was to become effective, the companies of the CEOS who had met with Obama started deliberately cancelling policies that were to be grandfathered by ACA, in their efforts to defraud their policyholders by trying to get them to convert to policies that would cost them more money. In the process of trying to con their existing policyholders into buying new higher premium policies, they also neglected to abide by another provision of ACA which was – telling their existing customers that they didn’t have to accept these higher premium policies they were trying to con them into but rather, they could look for new, cheaper policies on the ACA exchanges.

      In reality, Obama was very gracious in taking the blame for THEIR LIES. He could well have made a real issue of the their lies by telling the nation that these major health insurers were NOT ABIDING BY THE PROMISE THEY MADE TO HIM TO DO THEIR BEST TO LET THE IMPLEMENTATION OF ACA GO SEEMLESSLY BY CONTINUING TO OFFER THEIR POLICIES GRANDFATHERED BY ACA WHICH WOULD HAVE ALLOWED THEIR INSUREDS TO KEEP THEIR SAME DOCTORS!!!!!!

    • Sick of everything

      Really? Go away.

  • Sick of everything

    Well good, and the morons of FL reelected this tool. The south is a scary place. You idiots get what you deserve.

  • Sean Maguire

    Obamacare has raped one young lady’s future: