Florida Senator Files Bill To Repeal Welfare Drug Testing Law

September 23, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Count Florida state Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D) as another opponent of a state law requiring welfare applicants to take a drug test.

This week, the senator filed a bill to repeal the law, saying the legislation “kicks people when they’re down.”

“This is not what America is supposed to be about,” Joyner told TPM. The law is an “assault on poor people,” she said, who need help and have swallowed their pride and asked for assistance. “And we denigrate them,” she said.Not only is the law unfair, it’s unnecessary, she said. Joyner said federal legislation already exists that essentially allows states to deny benefits to people who have been convicted of a felony relating to drug use, possession or distribution.

“The public doesn’t know about this federal law,” Joyner said. “It’s an education gap. The perception is out there: poor people who ask for help are on drugs.”

A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday shows that 71 percent of Florida voters favor the law. The Florida ACLU has filed suit against the law, saying it violates the Fourth Amendment. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), in defending the legislation, has argued that drug use among welfare recipients is “much higher” than the population at large. But earlier results of the drug tests suggest the opposite, with only about 2 percent of applicants testing positive for drugs.

Joyner said she doesn’t favor supporting anyone’s drug habit, but she is opposed to spending money on an unnecessary law. “I’m going to do everything in my power to get the bill passed,” she said. “People are being punished because they’re poor and down and out on their luck.”

A hearing in Orlando is set for Monday morning, where Scott’s attorneys have filed a motion to argue for the law, Florida ACLU spokesman Derek Newton told TPM, even though the governor was not mentioned in the ACLU’s lawsuit. The Governor’s office has decided it “wants to own this issue,” he said.

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