Miami Herald: ‘Just say no’ to state employee drug testing

OUR OPINION: Gov. Scott sends mixed messages on privacy

April 3, 2011- Anyone who puts their child on a public school bus, or dials 911 for emergency help, or flags a state trooper down the road, surely wants the government employees entrusted with their safety to be clear-minded and not under the influence of drugs.

Those public workers are a special category, however, because of the very nature of their jobs. It’s puzzling then that Gov. Rick Scott does not acknowledge the distinction between those state employees and up to 100,000 other state workers whom he has now mandated to be subjected to random drug screenings.

Mr. Scott’s executive order gives a whole new meaning to the slogan “Just say No.’’ Only in this case, “No’’ is exactly where the federal courts have come down on the issue of random drug testing for public employees. It’s not permissible to test randomly, except for those in jobs that affect public safety and in cases where a reasonable suspicion of abuse exists, according to a 2004 federal court ruling in a case involving Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice.

The federal courts, citing the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches, also have ruled that government cannot require job applicants to take drug tests absent a “special need,’’ such as safety. Yet Mr. Scott’s order requires testing of all prospective hires in agencies that answer to the governor.

The disconnect between settled law and Mr. Scott’s action makes it appear that the governor is inviting a court challenge, which several groups already are promising to file.

What is it about this issue that would justify the time and expense it will consume? There is no public outcry for drug testing. No incidents have occurred that put this at the top of an urgent “to-do’’ list. At about $35 a pop, unless the fee is passed along to the employee, it could cost the state $3.5 million that has not been budgeted and does not exist. Surely there are better ways to spend $3.5 million that will return a bigger bang for the buck. (Child-abuse investigators, anyone?)

Mr. Scott clearly feels strongly about drug testing, which he casts as a public “right to know’’ issue. He campaigned on a related pledge to require people receiving welfare to pass drug screenings. A Senate bill to that effect is pending, requiring recipients to pay for and receive such tests.


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