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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Feb. 22, 201212:00 PM EST

Revised drug-testing bill advances


A House committee Tuesday approved a revised proposal that would allow random drug testing of state employees, as a federal judge prepares to hear arguments today about a similar testing plan by Gov. Rick Scott.

Debate in the House Appropriations Committee focused heavily on whether the proposal (HB 1205) is constitutional.

Sponsor Jimmie Smith (R-Inverness) said he is confident the bill would be upheld. “It is my opinion that this bill is absolutely and 100 percent constitutional,’’ he said.

Pamela Burch Fort, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, and other opponents made it clear that the bill would face a constitutional challenge if lawmakers approve it.

“I took an oath to uphold the constitution, and I think this bill violates the constitution,’’ said House Minority Leader Ron Saunders (D-Key West).

The bill stalled last week in the appropriations committee, but Smith offered an amendment Tuesday that would limit random drug testing to a maximum of 10 percent of an agency’s employees.

Also, agencies would not be required to test employees. Funding would have to come from within agency budgets — not extra money.

“If they do not have the money, they do not do the program,’’ Smith said.

The committee voted 15-8 to approve the bill. Rep. Ed Hooper (R-Clearwater) was the only Republican to vote against the bill. Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersburg) was the only Democrat to vote for it.

Scott issued an executive order last year requiring drug tests for state workers but was quickly hit with a constitutional challenge that the ACLU filed on behalf of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The ACLU said oral arguments are scheduled this afternoon in a Miami federal courthouse.

Burch Fort said Smith’s amendment Tuesday does not make the bill more constitutional and suggested lawmakers should wait to consider the issue until after a ruling in the Scott lawsuit.

“Nothing has changed,’’ she said. “House Bill 1205 remains unconstitutional.’’

Rouson, who has openly discussed his past drug abuse, said he thinks the bill doesn’t go far enough.

“Why is anybody afraid of being tested for the ingestion of illegal drugs in the workplace?’’ Rouson asked.

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