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Judge blocks Fla.’s new welfare drug testing law

By KELLI KENNEDY and MIKE SCHNEIDER,Associated Press
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A drug testing vial.  (Photo by Ron Wurzer/Getty Images)

A drug testing vial. (Photo by Ron Wurzer/Getty Images)

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge temporarily blocked Florida’s new law that requires welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving the benefits on Monday, saying it may violate the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Judge Mary Scriven’s ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union that claims the law is unconstitutional. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a 35-year-old Navy veteran and single father who sought the benefits while finishing his college degree, but refused to take the test.

Nearly 1,600 applicants have refused to take the test since testing began in mid-July, but they aren’t required to say why. Thirty-two applicants failed the test and more than 7,000 have passed, according to the Department of Children and Families. The majority of positives were for marijuana.

Supporters say applicants skipped the test because they knew they would have tested positive for drugs. Applicants must pay $25 to $35 for the test and are reimbursed by the state if they pass. It’s unclear if the state has saved money. During his campaign, Scott said the measure would save $77 million, but it’s unclear how he arrived at those figures.

Under the Temporary Assistance For Needy Families program, the state gives $180 a month for one person or $364 for a family of four.

Those who test positive for drugs are ineligible for the cash assistance for one year, though passing a drug course can cut that period in half. If they fail a second time, they are ineligible for three years.

The ACLU says Florida was the first to enact such a law since Michigan tried more than a decade ago. Michigan’s random drug testing program for welfare recipients lasted five weeks in 1999 before it was halted by a judge, kicking off a four-year legal battle that ended with an appeals court ruling it unconstitutional.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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