Need Help? Leave a Specimen

By Jeffrey Page

In the Sixties the great Phil Ochs believed that Mississippi should find another country to be part of. Nowadays the state that could do us all a favor by taking a walk is Florida.

At issue is an odious state law that tramples the Fourth Amendment by requiring anyone who applies for public assistance to submit to drug testing. A trace of heroin, cocaine or marijuana in your urine would disqualify you from getting help through welfare. As far as I can make out, it doesn’t matter if you live alone or if you’re the parent of a bunch of children who have that habit of asking for a meal three times a day. Smoke a joint or snort a line and your kids can go hungry, and maybe you could even lose your apartment.

Florida Governor Rick Scott defended his Dickensian dirty-urine bill by noting that it was designed to assist families and taxpayers. On one hand, he said, “Any illegal drug use in a family is harmful and even abusive to a child.” On the other hand, harm and abuse are inflicted on a child when her mom or dad doesn’t have the money to put a healthy meal on the table, all because the parent failed the drug test.

Meanwhile there doesn’t even seem to be much if a drug/welfare problem in Florida. The Orlando Sentinel reported that during a three-month period last year, a grand total of 32 people (out of 21,000) failed the drug test. Another 1,600 declined to take the test.

Scott’s clean urine crusade is not aimed at all Floridians. He has not suggested that people wanting driver’s licenses, or seeking elective office, or registering at the public library, or applying for unemployment insurance, or signing up for Social Security and Medicare be drug tested. These last two are federal programs which I mention because Scott was elected with Tea Party support and has been mentioned as a 2016 possibility.

Neither human kindness nor the Constitution get in Rick Scott’s way because he doesn’t understand one basic fact. Unlike many fathers in Florida, Scott doesn’t have to worry about his two children ever going hungry. Not when their dad spent $75 million of his own money to get elected in 2010. Various sources suggest his net worth was about $218 million that year. How difficult was it to struggle along after spending $75 million? Not so difficult since Scott rejected his $130,000 salary as governor and takes an annual pay of 1 cent.

This is a man who fails to understand that not all Floridians are rich, fat and happy. What he most likely does understand is that most people applying for welfare probably don’t have the wherewithal to challenge his foul ball of a regulation.

But with the help of the ACLU, one man – the dad of an 8-year old son – sued the state. An obscure federal district judge in Central Florida saw right through the law’s ignorance of the Fourth Amendment and tore it apart.

As 2013 ended, Judge Mary S. Scriven ruled that Scott’s law was unconstitutional and a violation of those Fourth Amendment protections.

Scriven said the collection of an applicant’s urine “entails intrusion into a highly personal bodily function,” and that intrusion also “extends well beyond the initial passing of urine,” according to a report in the Sentinel.

She concluded that Scott’s drug testing, which she described as “suspicionless,” amounts to a search and reminded the state that proper searches and seizures are based on “probable cause.”

Incidentally, Mary S. Scriven was nominated to the federal bench in 2008 by President George W. Bush.

5 Responses to “Need Help? Leave a Specimen”

  1. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    great insight. the country’s gone bonkers and i keep wondering how we “right” ourselves – as in getting back on a progressive track rather than a right wing one. happy new year, jeff. look forward to more of your blogs.

  2. Jeffrey Page Says:

    Thanks Jo, but I have to say that I fear Judge Scriven is a voice in the wilderness. I can see this matter going to the Supreme Court — and then what? Rarely have I been as pessimistic as now.


  3. Terrie Farley Moran Says:

    Happy New Year Jeffrey and thanks so much for shining some light on this nasty mess. As you correctly point out, drug use among Florida welfare applicants/recipients is far lower than drug use among the total American population. To add insult to injury, Scott persuaded the taxpayers of Florida that they would save a fortune by weeding out the huge number of druggie welfare recipients. Instead, during the brief time the program was in effect, the state reimbursed nearly $200,000 to the folks who paid for and passed their tests. Unfortunately many, many people want to believe that if you need help to feed your kids or pay your rent, you must have a fatal flaw. They need to believe that because otherwise they would have to accept that a bad thing could happen to them. Keep the faith!!

    Terrie Moran

  4. Jeffrey Page Says:

    Many thanks for your kind words, Terrie. I really wonder what kinds of distress Scott has faced in his lifetime. (Somehow I don’t think there have been many.) But what I really wonder about is how he handled them, and how many people suffered as a result).
    Like another mouthy governor — Chris Christie in Jersey — Scott seems to think that ridicule and sarcasm are serious forms of communication to deal with people who see right through him, and don’t like what they see.
    All that comes back to haunt, I think.

    Happy New Year to you, too.


  5. Mary Makofske Says:

    Draconian as well as Dickensian. Thank goodness one judge saw this as nonsense.

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