Scott seeks high court review of drug testing

5:21 AM, Jan 15, 2014   |    comments
Gov. Rick Scott speaks -- very briefly -- with reporters in Tampa on Thursday.
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(Tallahassee.com) - Gov. Rick Scott is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve a nearly three-year-old legal battle over his efforts to drug-test state workers.

In their latest effort to defend his 2011 executive order requiring agencies under his control to drug-test their workers, Scott's lawyers argue their case verges on unsettled legal territory. They contend in their petition filed Monday that drug abuse is a "pervasive social problem" that could affect the safety and productivity of the state's workforce.

Opponents of the drug-testing policy counter that random drug testing is unconstitutional and treats state workers like "suspected criminals." Jeanette Wynn, president of the local AFSCME council representing state workers, said in a statement Tuesday that Scott was "wasting taxpayer dollars" by repeatedly appealing the original ruling that blocked his order.

The ACLU and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees sued Scott in 2011, before his executive order was implemented. The legal back-and-forth has continued ever since.

The lower court blocked Scott's drug-testing policy, but the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found last year that states could likely order drug-testing for some employees in positions where safety is an issue - such as those who drive large vehicles or carry guns.

As a result, the two sides will need to separate state workers into different categories before continuing with the case, which has been sent back to a district court in Miami.

Last fall, Ursula Ungaro, the federal judge overseeing the case, ruled that process should continue regardless of what happens with Scott's petition to the Supreme Court, which, she wrote, "most likely will not be granted."

"Every court that has heard the arguments of the governor's lawyers, defending the policy that treats all those who serve the people of Florida like suspected criminals by requiring them to submit to an invasive search, has rejected them," ACLU of Florida attorney Shalini Goel Agarwal said Tuesday in a statement. "The (Scott) administration seems to wish to fight to the bitter end to defend this wrongheaded and unconstitutional policy."

The governor's lawyers, however, write that federal appeals courts have looked at similar cases and reached different conclusions, and that the state has an interest in ensuring its employees are not using drugs. They also contend that it would be "arduous" to wage separate legal battles over different categories of employees.

"Illegal drug use hurts any employee's ability to do their job," Scott said in a statement.

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