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Florida House Panel OKs Revamped Drug-Testing Bill

JAMES L. ROSICA, 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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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A rewrite of a proposed law that allows state agencies to randomly drug-test its employees was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

Just last week, panel members voted down the bill (HB 1205) after fellow lawmakers — including Republicans — questioned its legality and its cost to taxpayers.

Rep. Jimmie T. Smith, the bill’s sponsor, amended it so that no extra money for drug tests is needed; they’ll be paid for out of the agencies’ existing budgets.

Another change made by the Inverness Republican is that the random sample of employees to be tested can’t be more than 10 percent of the agency’s workforce and must be generated by an “independent third-party” computer. The bill cleared the panel by a 15-8 vote.

The measure allows, but does not require, state agencies to randomly test workers every three months. It makes it easier to fire those who show positive for drugs after a first test that has been confirmed.

Smith has said he wants to ensure a drug-free state workplace. Last year, he sponsored a law that mandates drug testing of welfare recipients; that law now is being challenged in federal court.

A separate executive order by Gov. Rick Scott requiring random drug testing of state workers resulted in a lawsuit and also is being litigated in federal court. A hearing in that case is set for Wednesday. Scott supports Smith’s bill.

Rep. Paige Kreegel, a Punta Gorda Republican, acknowledged that he had been visited by one of Scott’s staff members, who was gingering up support for the bill’s passage.

In a surprise move, Rep. Darryl Rouson — who has spoken publicly about his past battles with drugs — was the lone Democrat to vote for the measure.

“I think it is a privilege to work for government … why is anyone afraid of being tested for the ingestion of illegal drugs,” said Rouson, who added he didn’t think the legislation went far enough.

Some lawmakers who voted against the measure last week, including Republican Rep. Marti Coley of Marianna, switched their votes after Smith made the changes.

“The way to not make this an issue is not to come to work on drugs,” Coley said.

Several Democrats said they could not support the bill because it will trigger an expensive legal battle.

“We get back to this pesky thing called the Constitution,” said Rep. Franklin Sands, a Weston Democrat.

Drug testing invokes the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizure.

Courts generally frown on drug testing without a reasonable suspicion of employee drug use, though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled “suspicionless” testing constitutional in a handful of situations, including on student athletes and railroad employees after a major accident.

The bill still must be passed by the full House. A similar measure is in the Senate.

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Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout contributed to this report. Follow James L. Rosica on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jlrosica

 Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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