Controversial law resurfaces: Should Florida drug test welfare applicants?

Lawmaker want to bring back a controversial law that was declared unconstitutional.

A controversial question: should Florida be drug testing welfare recipients?

A similar 2011 law that failed has already cost taxpayers more than $1 million after a federal court found it unconstitutional.

Now, a new plan by two local lawmakers is moving forward in the legislature.

Rep. Chris Latvala and his father, Sen. Jack Latvala, want to ensure people getting state funds aren't using the money for drugs.

Opponents say it’s sending the state down a slippery slope, again.

“I still get my assistance. I do. I'm disabled,” says Anna Delgado.  The mother and grandmother has been receiving state welfare assistance for years. 

“My kids when they were young, I was a single mom. I was working and needed assistance, so I went and got what I needed. I'm American. I feel like I should get it. I'm American,” says Delgado.

But, In order to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, some lawmakers want mandatory drug testing for those who have already been convicted of a felony drug charge.

“I don't think they should test them. Plus, it's personal business what people do,” Delgado says.

An ACLU official agrees.

“We've been down this road before. You would think legislators would have learned a lesson based on the ruling of the federal court that it's unconstitutional. It still is on the face of it,” says ACLU Regional Director Joyce Hamilton Henry. 

She believes the new proposal still violates recipients constitutional rights against unreasonable searches, and unfairly targets people because of their past.

Gov. Rick Scott's first failed push cost taxpayers $1.5 million in legal fees. The new plan would need another $500,000 for the Department of Children and Families to set up the testing procedures and drug screening costs.

“Stop wasting our time, legislators’ time, and certainly taxpayers money. It’s also an attempt to retroactively reinforce a stereotype of poor people that they're criminals or a drug abusers. We're concerned about that,” says Hamilton Henry.

The bill requires applicants to pay for the $40 drug test. Positive results could mean a loss of benefits up to a year. 

Applicants who test positive for drugs could reapply for assistance after six months, if they complete a substance abuse program at their own expense.

“They have a history, a track record that usually repeats itself.  I'm okay with having the requirements, even with the Fourth Amendment,” says supporter Stan James.

Hundreds of 10News WTSP Facebook followers have been talking about this on our page, and commenters have been taking positions on both sides.

 

 

The most liked comment is from Brandy Fisler

 How the Hell is it Unconstitutional? I have to take one to work so I can take care of my family and pay taxes, some of those taxes go to help pay for those on welfare. Those who are on drugs have no business getting money from the state to pay for them when there are people out there that really needs the help.

The second most "liked" comment is from Jeff Lodermeier:

This is about demonizing the poor. If it weren't, then we should drug test people who take other forms of government money. 
Let's drug test congress, or people who take subsidies and certain tax deductions. 
But we won't. We'll continue to belive that a small percentage of people manipulating the system are worth degrading people who legitimately need this assistance.

What do you think?  You can join the conversation right now by liking the 10 News WTSP Facebook page.

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