Judge says state employee drug testing policy ‘sweeps too broadly’
A judge hearing a lawsuit filed against Florida’s attempt to randomly drug test state employees yesterday said she will be issuing her ruling soon, and also expressed concerns she has about the policy.
Last March, Gov. Rick Scott ordered state agencies to craft policies for randomly testing employees within 60 days, and gave them another 60 days to notify employees. After a challenge leveled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, however, Scott halted the policy.
A federal judge in Miami Wednesday cast serious doubts about Gov. Rick Scott’s order requiring thousands of state government employees to undergo a random drug test, suggesting his policy “sweeps too broadly.”
U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro peppered a government lawyer with questions about the constitutionality of Scott’s policy, saying she had “trouble understanding the circumstances under which the executive order would be valid.”
Jesse Panuccio, deputy general counsel for Scott’s office, did not provide specific examples but rather talked generally about the harm of drug use among state employees in the workplace. “Drugs are very harmful,” he told the judge. “They’re very dangerous.”
Ungaro said she would soon make up her mind about the legal challenge to Scott’s policy by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. The group argues that his order violates the Fourth Amendment rights of state workers because the testing requirement is “suspicionless” and therefore an illegal search and seizure.
“For the consent [to the search] to be valid, it has to be voluntary,” ACLU lawyer Shalini Goel Agarwal argued. “This blanket drug testing is unconstitutional.”
As the court considers the constitutionality of the random drug tests, the Florida Legislature is working to pass a law to require state agencies to randomly drug test 10 percent of their employees every three months. While this policy would be less “broad” and would be created by the Legislature, and not via executive order, opponents still claim the state is attempting to infringe on the Fourth Amendment rights of state employees.
While Scott has not been publicly championing the Legislature’s current efforts, legislators have said the governor’s office has been lobbying them to support and pass the bill.
A little over a week ago, a House committee actually voted down the bill. Both Republican and Democratic members expressed concern over possible constitutional challenges, as well as the costs of such programs. Because an agency could decide to either take up drug testing or not, legislators were concerned that they did not know how much the bill would eventually cost the state.
However, after it failed, the bill was resurrected through a procedural move by state Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange. In a complete turnaround, the bill easily passed in a House budget committee this week.