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Court Ends Drug Tests for Welfare Applicants in Florida

Mark Miller

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A federal appellate court unanimously struck down a 2011 Florida law mandating drug tests for all welfare applicants, even those not suspected of illegal substance use.

The three-judge panel ruled Florida officials did not demonstrate there was a “more prevalent, unique or different drug problem among [welfare] applicants than in the general population.” Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) had justified the law by claiming it protected children from parents who might use welfare funds to score drugs.

The law backfired for cash-strapped Florida. All welfare applicants were forced to pay for their own drug test. However, anyone passing the drug test had to be reimbursed the fee (approximately $30). As only 2.6 percent of applicants failed, the state was forced to pay out $118,140 in only four months to those passing – more than what the state saved by denying welfare to those testing positive for drugs.

The case originated in 2011 after the ACLU sued the state of Florida on behalf of U.S. Navy veteran and single-father Luis Lebron. Though a federal judge decided Florida’s welfare test law was unconstitutional in 2013, the state appealed, leading to the appellate court ruling.

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