Surprise — Lawmakers Turn Down Free Drug Test Offer
Among its dubious achievements this year, the Florida legislature passed a law authorizing random drug tests for state workers.
Guess who’s exempt? Lawmakers themselves.
So now the clerk down at the DMV gets to pee in a cup — but not the knuckleheads in Tallahassee who control $70 billion in public funds.
Whom do you think is more dangerous to the future of Florida?
In the session that just ended, the legislature jacked up tuition on state college students while creating a new university to placate one cranky senator. It threw more than 4,400 state workers out of their jobs while handing out more than $800 million in tax break to businesses.
Clearly, legislators are impaired. Is it meth? Coke? Mushrooms?
We’ll never know.
A few months ago, I offered to pay for drug tests for all 160 state senators and representatives. The deal was that all of them had to do it. Not a penny of taxpayer money would be spent.
Shockingly, the Republican leadership showed zero interest in my proposal. However, they were very excited about Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to impose mandatory urine-testing on welfare applicants, who statistically use drugs at a lower rate than the public.
That particular law is currently stalled in the courts because of serious constitutional questions, which is where the new statute will end up as well, if Scott signs it.
Meanwhile, let’s hear from its proud sponsor, Rep. Jimmie Smith of Lecanto, which is near Inverness, which is sort of near Wildwood. Smith’s Web page says he’s a “security officer” who is retired from the Army. He has been in the legislature about 18 months.
“This is not to do drug testing because they’re state workers,” he said. “This is to do drug testing for one problem: Drugs in Florida.”
The new law would allow state agencies to randomly test up to 10 percent of their workers every three months. Failing one test can get you fired; the present law requires treatment after the first positive urine screen.
An amendment that would have included drug-testing the governor and lawmakers was indignantly rejected.
“Political theater,” whined Rep. Smith. “It was found to be unconstitutional to drug-test elected officials because it prevents us, as citizens, from having that First Amendment right.”
Based on that fog-headed explanation, which not even Cheech could explain to Chong, Smith’s urine should be the first to get screened.
He was attempting to reference a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a Georgia law requiring political candidates — not just elected officials — to take drug tests. The ruling wasn’t based on the First Amendment but on the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.
It’s the same constitutional provision at the core of multiple legal challenges to Scott’s drug-testing initiatives. While private companies may screen employees whether or not there is cause or reasonable suspicion, the judiciary often takes a dim view when government tries that.
A few Florida lawmakers pointed out the hypocrisy of excluding themselves from a statewide drug-testing program.
“I have to conclude that this an elitist body not prepared or courageous (enough) to lead by example. Shame on you,” Rep. Mark Pafford, a Democrat from West Palm Beach, told his colleagues.
Carlos Trujillo, a Republican from Miami, agreed that the governor and elected officeholders should be drug-tested with other state workers. Still he voted to ice the amendment, citing concerns over the Georgia ruling.
That decision, written for the majority by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, criticized the Georgia law because it “diminishes personal privacy,” and was mainly a symbolic remedy to a situation that hadn’t even been documented — drug use among political candidates.
Ironically, the same argument can be made against random testing of Florida employees. Jimmie Smith and other supporters of the bill didn’t produce any proof that drug abuse was rampant in the state work force. They just wanted to look like tough guys.
The High Court has sanctioned government drug-testing for certain professions in which public safety is at stake. For example, a train engineer may be ordered to submit a urine sample even if there’s no indication of a substance problem.
You could make a strong case that lawmakers fall into the same high-risk category, considering the damage they do in their annual train wreck known as the Legislative session.
The offer still stands. I’ll pay for every one of them to pee in a cup.
The governor, too. In fact, we’ll let him go first.
(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)
(c) 2012, The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.