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Our Opinion: Bad law | Drug-testing wastes time and money

Our Opinion: Bad law | Drug-testing wastes time and money

9:12 PM, Mar. 20, 2012  | The Tallahassee Democrat Opinion

Gov. Rick Scott wasted no time turning one of his priorities into law, signing the Drug Free Workplace Act on Monday and making Florida the first state to allow random drug-testing of all state workers regardless of whether there is any suspicion of drug abuse.

This is a bad law, as we no doubt will find out after another long battle in the courts. But even more important, at a time when every government dollar is stretched to the max, it is a costly and wasteful law that will accomplish little.

Florida has gone this route before. In 2004, in a case involving more than 5,000 employees of the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that only public employees whose jobs directly affect safety — for example, police or bus drivers — can be required to take random drug tests. To expand testing beyond that violates the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search.

Undeterred, Gov. Scott last year issued an executive order subjecting about 80,000 state workers to random tests, but that order is on hold as it is reviewed by a federal judge in Miami.

Now the state seems prepared to continue its costly — and most likely losing — battle. “No one should be surprised if this latest effort ends up in court,” Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said Tuesday in a statement. “And when this matter lands in the courts, we expect they will make it clear once again that government cannot subject people to suspicionless searches just because it wants to.”

Beyond the constitutional issues, what problem are we solving here? Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who voted against the bill, said: “I haven’t been running across drug-addled employees unable to do their job.” In a hearing on Gov. Scott’s executive order, the governor’s deputy general counsel did not provide specific examples of drug use. Instead, he told the judge the obvious: “Drugs are very harmful. They’re very dangerous.”  No one will argue with that, even while the effects are debatable as far as some drugs are concerned.

So, in the absence of a problem, the state will pay a third party to come up with a random list of workers — as much as 10 percent of the workforce every three months. And it will pay for the drug tests — at the usual $10 to $40 per test. And it will waste the time of thousands of employees sent off to take their drug tests.

Sen. Alan Hays, the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said the bill would help the state worker who might have a drug problem. Yet the new law now makes it possible for the state to fire a worker after one positive test — something it couldn’t do before. Some help.

So, what we have is a bill that is constitutionally suspect, that addresses a problem nobody has identified, that will waste time and money and that will take resources from more valuable programs. But it does punish state workers. Perhaps in this political climate, in the eyes of some, that alone makes it worth signing into law.

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