Judge Temporarily Halts Florida Law that Requires Drug Tests for Welfare Applicants

A federal judge has temporarily halted a Florida law that requires welfare applicants to pass a drug test before they are able to receive benefits. Judge Mary Scriven said the law may violate the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, the Associated Press reports.

The judge’s ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and a Navy veteran. The veteran, Luis Lebron, is a University of Central Florida student who cares for his son and disabled mother, and receives welfare.

The Florida law, which took effect July 1, requires applicants to be responsible for the cost of the screening. They can recover the costs if they qualify for assistance. Under the law, applicants who fail the drug screen can designate another person to receive the benefits on behalf of their children.

Judge Scriven wrote that the drug test can uncover private medical facts. She said she found it troubling that results of the tests are not kept confidential—they can be shared with law enforcement officers and a drug abuse hotline.

The temporary ban on the law will be in effect until the judge holds a full hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

Statistics compiled by Florida as part of the new law show welfare applicants in the state are less likely than Americans in general to use drugs. About 2.5 percent of up to 2,000 applicants for welfare in the state have tested positive for drugs since the law went into effect in July, and an additional 2 percent declined to be tested. The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found an estimated 22.6 million Americans aged 12 or older—8.9 percent of the population—were current illicit drug users.