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Veteran, ACLU sue Florida over suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients

A Navy veteran and full-time student at the University of Central Florida, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, has filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida over a law requiring temporary assistance recipients to take a drug test before receiving benefits.

Luis Lebron, a 35-year-old Orlando resident and single father, applied for temporary assistance in July 2011 to support his 4-year-old son. He was denied benefits he was otherwise qualified for because he refused to waive his Fourth Amendment rights and submit to a drug test as required by a new state law.

Lebron said on a conference call this morning that the law is “wrong and unfair.” He said that having to give up his rights to receive benefits makes him “sick and angry.”

“I defended the Constitution,” he said. “Now I am asking the Constitution to defend me.”

The ACLU of Florida, along with the Miami-based Florida Justice Institute, is joining Lebron in the lawsuit.

Howard Simon, the executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said that Gov. Rick Scott, who happens to be a lawyer, “must have slept through constitutional law.”

“The law is not just unconstitutional and illegal,” Simon said, “it’s a public policy that rests on ugly stereotypes.”

Maria Kayanan, also from the ACLU, said the law has already proven to be a “logistical mess.” According to her, the law has been complicated to implement because there are not enough state-approved labs to carry it out.

A press release from the ACLU also points out many unforeseen costs:

Because the law is new, it is unclear whether the costs of paying for the 98% of tests which do not show drug use will exceed the savings of denying benefits based on failed tests. Early cost estimates do not include implementation costs, ongoing administrative obligations, re-testing requirements, legal challenges or any increase in applications for benefits since the law took effect. In June, 2011, before the required drug testing, 1,060 Floridians applied for TANF benefits. In July, 2011, after testing was required, 1,107 applied.

A similar law was passed in Michigan a decade ago, Simon said. However, it was thrown out after a legal battle over the constitutionality of the law.

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