A committee passed a bill today that would allow state agencies to voluntarily adopt policies to randomly drug test their employees. Opponents of the bill warned, however, that the governor’s support for the measure might undermine claims that the agencies would be acting voluntarily.
The bill’s sponsor — state. Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto — said during today’s hearing that his bill is needed to change ”the societal attitude towards drugs.”
“There is a huge and obvious drug problem in the state of Florida,” he told members of the committee. He said that anyone who is a state employee is making “serious decisions … no matter what they are doing” and should be subject to drug testing like employees in the private sector.
Opponents of the bill, however, claim the bill is attacking a subsection of the population without any evidence of a specific problem among those workers.
There is also the added complication that Gov. Rick Scott’s office has been taking part in backing the legislation behind the scenes.
Legislators have said publicly that the governor’s office has been lobbying for the measure and working to get the bill passed. Opponents of the proposal argued that this makes the opt-in provision of the law less voluntary than proponents are claiming.
During public testimony today, Rich Templin of Florida’s AFL-CIO was asked by state Rep. Alan Williams whether he believes the policy is “truly voluntary” if the governor is telling legislators and government workers that he wants the bill passed.
Templin told Williams, D- Tallahassee, that he did not want to speculate as to how agency heads would act if the law is passed, however, he believes Scott’s support does affect the voluntary clause of the bill.
“If I was an agency head serving at the pleasure of the governor and I knew the governor wanted this, I would do whatever I could to implement this program,” Templin said.
The crux of criticism of the bill, however, remains the question of its constitutionality.
Ron Bilbao, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told members of the committee that the bill remains “unconstitutional.” Bilbao said that mandating random and suspicion-less drug testing for jobs, ”absent a safety sensitive job … violates the Constitution.”
“If this is passed,” he reiterated on behalf of the ACLU, “it is an open invitation to litigation.”
Templin echoed those remarks and pleaded with lawmakers to reconsider the bill.
“It is 100 percent certain that this will invite more expensive litigation,” he siad. Templin also said that the law would be irresponsible because agencies would foot the bill for drug testing as they face budget cuts that are already cutting into services.