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Florida’s Scott Signs Bill Requiring Drug Testing for Welfare

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Florida Governor Rick Scott
Florida Governor Rick Scott. Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

May 31 (Bloomberg) -- Florida Governor Rick Scott, saying residents shouldn’t subsidize substance abusers, signed a bill that will require welfare recipients to submit to drug tests.

Under the law, applicants for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program who test positive for illegal substances won’t be eligible to receive benefits for one year or until they successfully complete a substance-abuse treatment program. More than 113,000 Floridians received TANF benefits in the last fiscal year.

“While there certainly are legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida’s taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction,” Scott, a 58-year-old Republican, said in remarks prepared for a ceremony in Panama City on the Panhandle.

The House passed the bill in April by a 78-to-38 margin, and the Senate approved it this month in a 26-to-11 vote. Republicans have a veto-proof majority in both chambers.

At least 10 states have introduced legislation to increase drug-screening requirements for welfare recipients. Lawmakers in at least two, Arizona and Missouri, passed the bills.

Florida’s law differs because it appears to be the only one mandating drug tests for all TANF recipients, said Liz Schott, a policy analyst at the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which focuses on public programs that affect low- and moderate-income families. Others limit testing to cases where there is reasonable suspicion that a recipient is using illicit substances, she said.

‘Smearing People’

“There’s a world of difference on a practical level and on a legal level,” she said. “This is about smearing people who are getting welfare.”

The 1996 Welfare Reform Act gave states authority to test recipients for illegal drug use, according to a fact sheet from the American Civil Liberties Union. Michigan, which was the only state to implement mandatory drug testing before 2008, scrapped its law in 2003 after a U.S. district court judge found it unconstitutional.

The Florida chapter of the ACLU is “looking very closely at the issue and weighing all our options, including a legal challenge,” said Derek Newton, a spokesman.

To contact the reporter on this story: Simone Baribeau in Miami at sbaribeau@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net.

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