Florida lawmakers take another try at state worker drug testing

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Florida lawmakers on Friday approved a measure allowing agency heads to randomly drug test some employees, sending the bill to Gov. Rick Scott, who is expected to sign it, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

By a 26-14 vote, the Senate approved the measure (HB 1205), which allows up to 10 percent of a department’s employees to be randomly tested.

“This is the 21st Century and drug abuse is rampant,” said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, the Senate sponsor of the bill.

The program would allow tests to be conducted every 90 days and would prohibit department heads from firing employees who initially test positive for drugs. Backers of the measure said the program mirrors efforts that have long been in place in the private sector.

“I’ve had a drug free workplace for more than 20 years,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. “I believe that it has contributed to higher quality employees.”

Critics railed at the measure as an intrusive and unnecessary procedure.

“Can you imagine if King George had told the patriots that they all had to take drug tests and sent an order over by ship to tell them that?,” asked Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. “I think they would have thrown the drug test right into the Boston Harbor.”

Democrats who opposed the bill also chided their Republican colleagues for a “big government” program that would improperly insert the government into an employee’s personal life.

“We’re talking less personal freedom without probable cause,” said Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. “This is more government intrusion and more costs.”

“It is a waste of our time and our money,” added Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami.

Scott tried to require drug testing of state employees not long after he took office, putting it into place through an executive order. But that order was challenged in court and the governor backed away, putting the program on hold pending the court challenge.

Florida lawmakers have also tried to increase testing for drugs, in other arenas. Lawmakers last year voted to require applicants for federal public assistance to pass a drug test. That effort is also being challenged in court.

Earlier this week the Georgia House approved a similar measure.

Numerous states have adopted drug testing laws for specific employees,  according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Law enforcement officers and emergency responders are the most likely to undergo drug testing, the NCSL reports. Courts have found that testing of government workers when their job entails safety, is permitted.

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.