Controversial Florida Law should Welfare Recipients be Drug Tested

Florida’s Governor Rick Scott recently signed legislation requiring applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to pass a drug test before receiving aid. Scott, a Republican, said it was “the right thing for citizens of this state that need public assistance. We don’t want to waste tax dollars. And also, we want to give people an incentive to not use drugs.”

Welfare recipients should not be drug tested. The end does not justify the means. In 2000 a United States District Court held that a Michigan law requiring “suspicion less drug tests” of all welfare recipients fell afoul of the fourth amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The court also concluded that testing of welfare recipients is “laudable and understandable” to address substance abuse as a barrier to employment; the goal is not a sufficient “special need” to warrant drug testing. “Special needs “are those government interests that go “beyond the normal need for law enforcement.” Griffin v. Wisconsin, (1987).

This “suspicion less drug testing” impedes on a person fourth amendment rights. The right of the people to be secure in their “persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” In 1997 the United States Supreme Court found a Georgia statute requiring candidates for public office to be drug tested failed to show a need pressing enough to “suppress the fourth amendment’s normal requirement of individualized suspicion.” And in 2000 a Florida district court found that reassuring the public that state workers are not using drugs was similarly insufficient to justify blanket searches. This is what Florida’s governor Scott is doing” blanket searches of every recipient of TANF. The need for drug testing TANF recipients is not pressing enough to violate a persons fourth amendment rights.

Having TANF recipients take a drug test before receiving aid is based on a corrupt premise, guilty until proven innocent. This is fraudulent. In our American justice system, the presumption of innocence, (referred by the Latin Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat) or the principle that one is considered innocent until proven guilty is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial. Does this not apply to all Americans? When does the premise shift? When does it no longer apply? Is it when your income goes below the poverty level? Rep. Alcee Hastings says “If Governor Scott wants to drug test recipients of TANF benefits, where does he draw the line? Are families receiving Medicaid, state emergency relief, or educational grants and loans next?” It is not for the “accused” to prove innocence rather the burden of proof rests on he “who asserts, not on who denies“. It is the responsibility of the state of Florida to provide evidence that would warrant such a search. Taking away aid to needy families will only create more barriers to self-sufficiency. If TANF was created to: a) Provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; (b) End the dependence of needy parents on government benefits by promoting job preparation, work, and marriage; (c) Prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and establish annual numerical goals for preventing and reducing the incidence of these pregnancies; and (d) Encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families, then charging money for a test that could ultimately decrease their income. This legislation has failed its purpose to help needy families. It appears to serve the interest of the state and not the interest of individuals.