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SPOTLIGHT
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Florida example

Published on -3/7/2013, 9:31 AM

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It is no secret both Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and members of the Legislature rely on the examples of other states and organizations for model legislation to push in Kansas. Florida and Texas, both of which have governors of the same ultra-conservative bent as Brownback, seem to get cited the most.

Whether it's no income taxes in the Lone Star State or flunking all third-graders who haven't mastered reading in the Sunshine State, there is no shortage of bills introduced this session in Topeka that have precedent elsewhere.

So, if we're going to rely on these states' experiments with people's lives, it strikes us as incumbent to examine the negative effects or causations as well.

For example, Kansas is pushing through a bill that would make all residents participating in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to be drug-tested. Proponents claim such a requirement is done for the good of children. Critics charge it violates these citizens' privacy rights, and simply is a mean-spirited attempt to reduce state expenditures.

Florida instituted such a law in 2011. Gov. Rick Scott said: "Drug use by anyone with children looking for a job is totally destructive. This is fundamentally about protecting the well-being of Florida families."

The law was implemented, and aid recipients began subjecting themselves to the nanny-state rules. More than 4,000 Floridians took the drug test before the program was suspended because of a lawsuit. Of the 4,086 tested, 108 failed. Most who didn't pass had traces of marijuana in their system.

All told, the state spent $118,140 to discover 100-some people smoked marijuana.

The lawsuit working its way through the courts was filed on behalf of one of those individuals. Recently, a federal appeals court upheld the temporary ban, said Florida's law appeared to be violating the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment which prohibits unreasonable searches by the government.

"There is nothing so special or immediate about the government's interest in ensuring that TANF recipients are drug free so as to warrant suspension of the Fourth Amendment," wrote Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett. "The only known and shared characteristic of the individuals who would be subjected to Florida's mandatory drug-testing program is that they are financially needy families with children."

Gov. Scott plans to waste more state resources and appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said: "Drug use by anyone with children looking for a job is totally destructive."

It's fine to have such a judgmental view of others, but when it violates this nation's guiding document and legal precedent it's gone over the line. There are states which have decriminalized marijuana use because all the "Reefer Madness" stereotypes have never been proved from a scientific perspective.

In our opinion, Florida is attempting to impose morals on its citizens at the expense of the Constitution. These shouldn't be legislated. And any thoughts of saving money by kicking needy families out of assistance programs based on dubious standards is going the opposite way. The state is losing more money than it could ever save through all the legal challenges and resources committed to this misguided effort.

Kansas should take note. If our lawmakers do not, we'll end up wasting a lot of taxpayer dollars attempting to defend an indefensible program.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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