March 20, 2012 / 5:15 PM / 6 years ago

Florida state workers face random drug tests under new law

(Reuters) - Florida Governer Rick Scott has signed as expected a law allowing state employees to be randomly tested for illegal drugs, a measure likely to draw a legal challenge over its constitutionality.

The Republican signed the Drug-free Workplace Act, which will permit state agency heads to randomly test up to 10 percent of a department’s employees for alcohol and other substance abuse, his office said on Monday.

Tests could be conducted every 90 days under the measure. It would prohibit department heads from firing employees who initially test positive for drugs but could require such employees to participate in rehabilitation programs.

Supporters of the law said it mirrors long-standing practices in private industry, but critics called the measure intrusive and unnecessary.

Lawmakers in several states have passed similar measures in recent years. The courts have generally upheld random drug testing for workers in jobs that involve public safety.

“Gov. Scott signed this law in clear defiance of constitutional principles,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Scott’s office did not have an immediate comment on Tuesday.

An ACLU spokesman would not confirm whether the organization intended to file a constitutional challenge, but Simon indicated in his statement legal action was likely.

Florida legislators last year voted to require applicants for federal public assistance to pass a drug test, but a federal judge barred enforcement of the law pending resolution of a challenge to its constitutionality.

“When this matter lands in the courts, we expect they will make it clear once again that government cannot subject people to suspicion less searches just because it wants to,” Simon said. “People do not lose their constitutional rights just because they work for the state of Florida.”

Opponents say broader testing of workers who are not suspected of wrongdoing violates their constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizure, and robs them of due process.

Scott previously signed an executive order requiring all state workers to undergo drug testing but suspended the testing pending the outcome of another lawsuit that called the tests an illegal search of workers’ bodies.

Reporting By Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Daniel Trotta

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