Two drug testing bills face different fates

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Fresh off a successful but contested effort last year to require welfare applicants to pass drug tests to collect benefits, Rep. Jimmie Smith brought a pair of related bills to the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday and came away 1 for 2, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

Following concerns from members including fellow Republicans, the committee rejected a measure (SB 1205) that would have allowed state agencies to randomly drug test employees. On a close vote, the panel rejected the proposal that critics from both parties say was facially unconstitutional.

Smith, R-Inverness, had better luck with another measure (HB 813) that would require felony drug offenders to show proof that they have undergone substance abuse treatment before collecting temporary federal aid. On a party-line vote, the panel approved the measure over the concerns of critics who say it also is unconstitutional.

Smith, who last year sponsored a measure requiring applications for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to pay for and pass a drug screen that was thrown out by the courts, dismissed concerns, and said the new bill sends a strong message that taxpayer funds won’t be used for drug use.

“This is the perfect way for the state of Florida to show that we help those people who help themselves,” Smith said.

The bill would prohibit the receipt of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program money to convicted felons unless they provide proof that they have completed or are undergoing drug or alcohol treatment. Details on how felons would prove their participation are still being worked out, Smith told members of the budget committee.

Democrats argued that there was no evidence to show that felony drug offenders have higher rates of drug abuse and the courts can already require such treatment programs as a condition of release. They also said the bill singles out low-income residents while ignoring possible drug use among others who receive state and federal assistance.

“If we’re going to check people, let’s take away some pensions if we think it’s going to be used for drugs,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

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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.