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Politics

Drug-Testing for State Employees Advancing through Legislature

January 25, 2012 - 6:00pm

A move to require state employees to be randomly drug-tested, an effort Gov. Rick Scott sought to impose after he was inaugurated last year, is moving through the Legislature.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, the sponsor of the Senate bill, SB 1358, said state employees are no risk of greater or lesser drug abuse than the general population, but said testing will help employees who need assistance in their personal fight against drug abuse.

Its about protecting the state employees and the public, Hays said.

Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, recalling that he had to take a test upon becoming a Hillsborough County commissioner in 1992, said everyone should be open to the random testing, including top administrators.

When I became a county commissioner they had it in place in our county and when commissioners were elected our first action was to go down and be tested and I had no problem with that, Norman said.

In the House, Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, sponsor of HB 1205, called the bill an effort to change societys acceptance of drug use.

The first drug-free workplace should be the one that taxpayers pay for, Smith said.

On Wednesday, the Senate Health Regulation Committee voted 6-1 to support SB 1358, while the House Government Operations Subcommittee voted 9-4 in support of HB 1205, which would require up to 30 percent of state employees to submit to random drug testing once every three months.

Under the bills, each state agency would have to revise its rules to handle those who fail drug tests, from reassigning employees as they participate in assistance programs to how they can be discharged.

Last year, Scott issued an executive order requiring all agencies to develop a plan for drug-testing employees shortly after taking office.

However, in June, he backed off implementing the policy after the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed suit contesting the constitutionality of random drug-testing for state workers on privacy grounds.

Scotts decision to halt the drug-screening plans didnt affect the Department of Corrections, which already drug-tested prospective and existing employees.

The ACLU of Florida on Thursday noted that courts have found that government-mandated drug tests -- without suspicion or special safety considerations -- are an illegal search in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Just three months ago, in an ACLU lawsuit, a federal judge ordered the state to stop enforcing last years law requiring Floridians applying for temporary assistance to submit to the humiliating government tests, stated Derek Newton, ACLU of Florida communications director. And when the ACLU of Florida challenged Governor Scotts executive order mandating random drug tests for state employees in court, he retreated, ordering most agencies to stop the unconstitutional program.

In spite of the continually mounting evidence, it seems some of our leaders in Tallahassee cant take It violates the Fourth Amendment for an answer.

In voting against the Senate bill, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, called the proposal invasive and unnecessary.

Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, among the four in the House subcommittee to oppose the bill, argued that employees need to be given a chance to receive treatment.

People deserve a chance to fix a mistake and I dont think it helps society in any way, Clemens said.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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