Florida Sun Sentinel: Gov. Scott’s drug testing order makes little fiscal or policy sense

March 28, 2011- It never bodes well when a new boss comes in and immediately institutes a sweeping, potentially costly initiative that at its heart speaks of an underlying distrust of the employees he is now leading.

Such is the case with Gov. Rick Scott's ill-conceived executive order requiring random drug testing of all current state employees answering to his office, as well as potential hires meeting the same criteria.

In explaining the order, which seemed to come out of the blue last week, Scott said: "Floridians deserve to know that those in public service, whose salaries are paid with taxpayer dollars, are part of a drug-free workplace. Just as it is appropriate to screen those seeking taxpayer assistance, it is also appropriate to screen government employees."

In other words, the new governor is following up one bad policy move with another.

Scott is referring to a campaign promise he made, which has passed a key Senate committee and has one more stop before making it to the Senate floor, that would require those who apply for Florida's welfare relief money to undergo a drug screening before receiving benefits.

While such a measure makes for nice sound bites, it has little practical use, especially considering the potential costs, which of course would be borne at taxpayer expense. And where's the big drug problem that makes such a costly initiative necessary?

A very limited pilot study initiated by the Florida Legislature in 1998 not only discovered that drug use wasn't a problem among welfare recipients, the pilot cost — at $90 a test — $2.7 million. And that was just for screening recipients in Jacksonville and parts of Putnam County. Imagine the cost in today's dollars, and when spread across the entire state.


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