Abortion, Welfare Drug Testing Bills Head to Gov. Scott
Around the State
Legislators helped Gov. Rick Scott make good on a campaign promise Thursday, as the Florida Senate sent a bill to his desk requiring welfare recipients to pass a drug test before receiving benefits.
Under the bill, recipients and applicants for the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program would be screened for illegal drugs. Proponents of the bill see it as a way of preventing taxpayer dollars from going to support a drug habit.
"This is an effort to stop the cycle of drug use," said Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, who sponsored the bill.
The vote came down 26-11 along strictly party lines, as Democrats balked at the proposal, which they thought discriminated against low-income people by assuming they are prone to drug use.
"I just think what's good for the goose is good for the gander," said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. "Bright Futures kids -- they get tax dollars. What's the difference between one class of people that get tax dollars and another? These people have pride and dignity, they don't just arbitrarily surface and say, 'Oh I can apply for some money.'"
Recipients who pass the drug test would be reimbursed for the cost of the test. Joyner suggested the measure could end up costing the state more in the long run to take care of the children of recipients who fail a drug test.
"Their children would need to be taken care of, and more than likely that person would be us -- the state of Florida," she said.
Along with Oelrich's bill, two pro-life bills were also sent to Gov. Scott after clearing the Senate, but not before Republican Sen. Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach berated her colleagues for taking their focus off of the dismal economy.
"I didn't come up here to tell you what to do with your bodies. You know why I really came up here this year? I came up here to help people put food on their table, to get people jobs; I came up here to protect people from the kind of safety issues that firefighters and police take care of; I came up here to protect education," Lynn said.
Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, who sponsored a bill requiring abortion seekers to undergo ultrasounds, refuted the argument, and said lawmakers were responsible for more than just the economy.
"There are so many issues that need to be addressed. The great questions of life are why you're here. You may think you're here for other issues but you're not," Storms said.
Senators passed another bill strengthening Florida's parental notification requirements for minors seeking abortions, which prevents pregnant teens from getting a judicial bypass of the notification outside their circuit court district.
The bills passed on largely partisan lines, with Lynn the only Republican to vote against the parental notification measure. She was joined by Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, and Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, as the only GOP members voting against the ultrasound bill.
Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, called Republicans out for intellectual dishonesty for voting for the ultrasound bill after supporting legislation to prevent the federal government from mandating the purchase of health insurance, earlier in the legislative session.
"You've said to government, 'get out from between the patient and the doctor.' You said that intellectually a couple of times this session. Now you have a bill where the government is getting in between the patient and the doctor," Smith said.
Gov. Scott is expected to sign all three bills into law.
Reach Gray Rohrer at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.