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Florida Law: Drug Testing Constitutionality

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The constitutionality of the new Florida drug testing law for those on public assistance will be questioned.

Is government intrusion going to be permitted in those "special cases" in which enough people accept it as a good idea? There certainly would be no precedent set there, as all new restrictive legislation becomes law simply because "enough people" rubber-stamp it as an acceptable level of intrusion. While that doesn't necessarily make it right, it does make it the law.

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But new laws do not always go unchallenged by the courts, and this new Florida law (and proposals in other states) will probably be among those challenged. The question now being asked is whether the challenge will be justified. I believe it is. 
In my mind, there is no question that a law segregating a class of people for drug testing should be challenged for its constitutionality. There is an arguable rationale for each side in the discussion. But the fact remains that a class of people is being segregated for accusation -- solely on the basis of their membership in that class. And that fact speaks very loudly against its constitutionality.

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In the absence of a thorough analysis of the dynamics in play here, there would appear to be a legitimate argument in favor of this testing. Yes, the working public is paying a hefty price for public assistance programs, and it could be argued that they should be able to expect that their money is not being frivolously spent on illicit drugs when it is intended to keep food on the table. That constitutes a fair argument, as far as it goes.

But further arguments of a quite similar nature might be made for additional classes of individuals. And the likelihood is that many of those who are most in favor of this new testing would be highly up in arms against it when referenced to these new classes of "target individuals."

If the argument against welfare recipients' decisions on the spending of money is based upon their dependence on funds coming from hard-working Americans, then the tables can certainly be turned on a few other classes of individuals, as well. Let's name a few.

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Hard-working Americans are certainly funding a lot more than just welfare programs. In fact, anyone on the government payroll could now be subject to the same kind of targeting, for the same reason. Their pay comes from the labor of hard-working Americans who deserve to know how their money is being spent, and are incensed that it is being spent on illegal drugs.

Every government employee, at every level from local to federal, could equally be targeted for drug testing, since their pay comes from the mandatory taxation of hard-working Americans. That goes for every member of Congress, as well as the President and his cabinet, not to mention all those in the military. It goes for all governors and all of state government. It goes for all employees of State Hospitals, and taxing agencies. It goes for the FBI, CIA, and IRS.

Not only that, but it should also go for all the corporate CEOs and Presidents who were "bailed out" by the government so their "private sector" businesses would be preserved from financial failure. If any of those funds are not repaid in full by January 1, 2012, monthly testing should become mandatory for all corporate personnel at any level of management. If they were "too big to fail," they are also now too indebted to spend anything on illegal drugs.

Or, on the other hand, we could just admit that it is not right to target just one group of individuals--the one with the smallest voice to object.

This targeting is unconstitutional and should be ruled as such, if and when it gets to the Supreme Court. But that will take some time before it happens, and it's likely that many of the poorest Americans may suffer from this targeting simply because they have a decidedly small voice in the world of government and big business.

Yes, the little people do still have the vote, and yes, they almost certainly will punish lawmakers who push these laws through. That is really the only reason these laws are probably not going to see the light of day in very many states.

Since these lawmakers are not going to enact laws that demand their own personal testing, it is not likely that effective, truly fair testing will ever be passed into law. If they really had any guts, they would legalize marijuana and pass the drug testing bill as a rider, focusing on all the other drugs that are out there. They would leave the newly legal marijuana on the table as a permissible alternative to the alcohol that, for some reason, is seen as completely innocent of all these charges and targetings. For in the final analysis it is legality, not health or spending choices, that is the issue being argued.

I personally went through a prolonged period of unemployment as a result of our economy's sluggishness. And I can assure you that had I not been able to have an occasional drink, I would have been an extremely difficult person to be around. Marijuana already serves the same purpose for many people. Some of them are indeed on welfare. But to target them for testing just because of their welfare recipient status is not only unconstitutional, but short-sightedly obtuse, when everyone else getting "government money" is perfectly free to spend it any way they choose -- as long as it is spent legally.


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Dan Cooper is an award winning freelance writer/editor living in the Texas Hill Country. He has worked in news and sports journalism and is currently working on several projects, including an autobiography and the editing of a California Gold Rush (more...)

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