Actually, drug testing of state workers will have to wait until end of legal fight

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A day after Gov. Rick Scott signed a controversial law that would allow state-worker drug testing, his administration said it will hold off on starting the tests until a legal battle is resolved, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

Jesse Panuccio, Scott’s acting general counsel, sent a memo Tuesday to agency heads and lawyers citing a federal lawsuit that opponents filed last year after the governor tried to impose drug tests by executive order.

That lawsuit, which remains pending, led to Scott suspending the tests in June 2010 except for the Department of Corrections. It remains unclear when a judge in Miami will rule on the constitutionality of the tests, but the ruling also would have implications for the new law.

“Because the legal case remains unresolved, the practical and logistical issues involved with implementing drug testing across all agencies remain the same,” Panuccio said in the memo, which was sent to reporters after 6 p.m.

The memo said Scott remains confident in the constitutionality of drug tests and that once “the lawsuit is resolved in the state’s favor, the governor will direct agencies to implement” the executive order and the new law (HB 1205).

Earlier Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida blasted Scott for signing the law. The ACLU has helped lead the challenge to the executive order and made it clear during the recently completed legislative session that the new law also would be challenged.

“(When) this matter lands in the courts, we expect they will make it clear once again that government cannot subject people to suspicionless searches just because it wants to,” ACLU Executive Director Howard Simon said in the statement. “People do not lose their constitutional rights just because they work for the state of Florida.”

The new law, which was overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature, would allow agencies to conduct random testing every three months. Agencies would use a computer system to choose employees to be tested, with the total not exceeding 10 percent of the agency workforce.

Lawmakers did not require drug screening and also would make agencies pay for the tests out of their overall budgets. But Scott made clear Tuesday that agencies under his control would conduct the tests.

“I think it’s the right thing to do for the state,” he said. “Just like a private company, we want to have a productive workforce.”

The law doesn’t take effect until July 1. But Panuccio’s memo said Scott is prepared to defend the executive order and the law at the appellate level, which could signal the possibility of a lengthy fight.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.