MIAMI — The American Civil Liberties Union is suing to block Florida’s new law requiring new welfare recipients to pass a drug test, filing the lawsuit on behalf of a Navy veteran who was denied assistance to help care for his 4-year-old son because he refused to take the test.
“The law assumes that everyone who needs a little help has a drug problem,” said Luis Lebron, 35, who had applied for the state money to help care for his son while he finishes college. “It’s wrong and it’s unfair. It judges a whole group of people based on their temporary economic situation.”
The ACLU, which is also challenging a mandate by Gov. Rick Scott requiring drug testing for state employees, says the law is unconstitutional – an argument that federal judges have agreed with before – because it constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure.
The Department of Children and Families, which oversees the program, has tested 1,500 to 2,000 recipients since mid-July. About 2.5 percent of those tested positive and about 2 percent declined to take the test, according to state officials.
Applications for the welfare program, known as Temporary Assistance For Needy Families, have decreased significantly since December, but state officials said it’s likely because residents have reached their 48-month benefit limit, not because they were deterred by the drug test.
Under the program, the state gives $180 a month for one person or $364 for a family of four. The law requires recipients to foot the bill for the drug test, which costs $30 to $35 per test. Those who test negative are reimbursed with their first payment.
No other state currently requires drug testing because it’s difficult to get around arguments that the tests violate the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches. Michigan’s random drug testing program for welfare recipients lasted five weeks in 1999 before it was halted by a judge, kicking off a four-year legal battle that ended with an appeals court ruling it unconstitutional.
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