State worker drug-testing bill passes Florida House, advances in Senate

State workers would have to agree to and submit to random, suspicionless drug tests under a measure approved Friday along party lines by the GOP-dominated Florida House and on its way to the Senate floor.

The bill, a priority of Gov. Rick Scott’s, would allow state agencies to order the tests of up to 10 percent of workers four times a year. Agency heads would have to use the money already in their budgets to cover the costs of the tests for the state’s 114,000 workforce.

The House passed the bill (HB 1205) on a 79-37 vote in the morning, and an identical version (SB 1359) cleared the Senate Budget Committee with a 12-6 vote in the afternoon.

Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart lawyer, cast the sole Republican “no” vote in the Senate committee. He said after the meeting that it was indicative of “more and more intrusive activities of our government.

“It’s gotten out of hand. The government is just getting more and more into our personal business,” he said.

The measure would allow agency heads to fire state workers who fail their first drug test and does away with a current requirement that workers who have drug problems receive employee assistance.

In the House, Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, tried to amend the bill to require that the governor, members of the Florida Cabinet and the 160 members of the state House and Senate also be required to submit to the urine tests. The bill’s sponsor Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, dismissed the amendment, set aside over Pafford’s objection, as “political theater.”

Calling the House an “elitist body,” Pafford chided his colleagues, saying, “Shame on you,” for being unwilling to go on the board with a vote on his amendment.

Democrats in the Senate also objected that the bill does not include lawmakers in the drug screening. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, already have the authority to order members of their chambers to submit to the drug tests, but neither leader has done so, said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, sponsor of the Senate bill.

Hays said he sponsored the bill at Scott’s request to rectify a problem created by lawsuit against a similar executive order issued by Scott last year.

The ACLU and state workers union sued the state last year after Scott imposed a drug-testing policy on state workers. Scott then quietly reversed his order for all but corrections offices pending the outcome of the case. Miami U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro heard oral arguments in the case last week in Miami.

Ron Bilbao of the Florida ACLU noted that Ungaro expressed serious doubts last week about Scott’s order. He and Democratic lawmakers argued the drug-testing bill similarly would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure by the government.

Scott last year also pushed the legislature to pass a law requiring that food stamp and emergency cash assistance applicants pass drug tests before receiving benefits. In October, a federal judge temporarily put that requirement on hold, ruling the drug screens were unconstitutional.

Other Democrats called the proposal a solution in search of a problem. Only two of 500 Department of Transportation tested positive for drugs in recent screenings, Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, said.

But Smith insisted his bill is necessary to combat drug abuse and said it would make Florida a model for the nation.

“People are dying,” he said. “And then you make an assumption because these are state workers this doesn’t affect their lives. The state of Florida by taking this vote becomes a laboratory thateventually leads the way of the entire nation. You will be having the courage, making the difference, for this entire country.”

By Dara Kam

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

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