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Welfare Drug Testing in Florida Given the Boot

ORLANDO (CN) - Supporters of mandatory drug testing for welfare applicants in Florida suffered a critical blow heading into the New Year as a federal judge permanently blocked the practice.

Navy veteran Luis Lebron challenged Florida's short-lived requirement that applicants submit to a drug test in order to receive benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

The single father applied for TANF benefits two months after enactment of the drug-testing statute in May 2011. If approved, he and his young son would have been able to collect up to $241 a month in benefits.

Lebron refused to take a drug test, however, and the state denied him the financial assistance. With the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute representing him, Lebron sued for violation of his right to be free from unreasonable searches.

After U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven granted Lebron a preliminary injunction in 2011, the 11th Circuit continued the hold on the drug-testing requirement in February 2013.

Scriven followed up by tackling one final issue left unresolved by the appeals court ruling.

"That remaining issue, whether the prevalence of drug use alone within a segment of the population receiving state funding can support mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of that entire population, was called into substantial question, and the record now before this court fails to support the state's asserted authority," Scriven explained. "Thus, for the reasons set forth below, and with the benefit of the rulings and analysis of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the court declares the statute facially unconstitutional and permanently enjoins the state from reinstating and enforcing the law."

The judge found on Dec. 31 that the very evidence Florida provided to support drug testing, when not inadmissible or irrelevant, actually weakened its defense of the practice.

"In sum, there simply is no competent evidence offered on this record of the sort of pervasive drug problem the state envisioned in the promulgation of this statute," Scriven wrote. "Hence, even if the state intended to hinge its demanded exception to the Fourth Amendment on this thin reed, a proposition the Eleventh Circuit already strongly cautioned against, it has failed to make the evidentiary showing that would be required. Because the state has failed to meet the threshold requirement of establishing a substantial special need, the court need not weigh any competing individual and governmental interests in this case."

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