After debate over Fourth Amendment infringements, tight budgets and collective bargaining rights, a House budget committee today passed a bill allowing state agencies to randomly drug test their employees.
The bill, which was unexpectedly resurrected in the Florida House last week after initially failing to pass another House committee, is currently being backed by Gov. Rick Scott. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, said that his bill was written to address drug use in the state, which he called a “systemic societal problem.”
Democratic state Reps. Marty Kiar, Mia Jones, Ron Saunders and Franklin Sands were among the legislators who warned committee members that the bill violates the U.S. Constitution.
Smith, who admitted to neither seeking written legal advice for his bill nor having a law degree of his own, was grilled by legislators for not properly defending his assertion that his bill is “100 percent constitutional.”
Smith said the basis for his claim that the bill does not fall under illegal mandatory suspicion-less drug testing rules is because state workers ”are welcome to find employment elsewhere … if they do not want to undergo a drug test.” While he could not cite a court case in his defense, Smith said that he conducted “a lot of research.”
Members supporting the bill said the ultimate goal of the proposal “is to see a drug-free workplace.”
Those opposed to the bill argued that while the goal is noble, the bill has glaring problems.
Rich Templin, of Florida’s AFL-CIO, told members that the bill is “unwarranted, expensive and demeaning.” Templin said there is no evidence of a systemic drug abuse problem in the state workforce.
“We don’t have any of the data here,” he said, “and we are simply speculating that there is a problem here.”
Some members supporting the bill claimed that “no one really knows” whether the bill will ultimately be found unconstitutional. But a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida — a group that focuses squarely on defending civil rights granted by the Constitution — said that it is indeed “unconstitutional.”
Pamela Burch-Fort told lawmakers that the bill is an ”open invitation to litigation.” She also pointed out that any questions about the legality of random, suspicion-less drug testing of state employes will be answered tomorrow, when a federal judge in Miami will hear a case over the state’s last attempt to drug test public employees.
“You don’t have to assume; you don’t have to guess,” she explained. “A federal judge is hearing a case over this very issue tomorrow.” Burch-Fort asked members to “consider waiting until this issue is resolved.”
The committee eventually passed the bill.