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Politics / Issues

Scott Presses for Welfare Drug Tests

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Arguing there is a "demonstrated problem with drug use" among people receiving public assistance, attorneys for Gov. Rick Scott's administration filed a 72-page brief this week asking a federal appeals court to uphold the constitutionality of a drug-testing program.

The state is seeking to overturn a lower-court ruling that barred drug testing as a condition for welfare applicants receiving benefits in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

In December, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven issued a 30-page ruling that concluded the urine tests would violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and that "there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied."

But the state's brief filed Monday in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta disputes Scriven's conclusions.

"Drug use impedes TANF participants’ ability to secure employment, drug use harms individuals and families, there is a demonstrated problem with drug use among the TANF population, and requiring individualized suspicion would be impractical and counterproductive,'' the brief said.

The case stems from a 2011 law that sought to require drug testing for applicants to the assistance program. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sued the state on behalf of Luis Lebron, a Navy veteran and single father.

The law was in effect for about three months before being halted by a preliminary injunction, and about 2.6 percent of applicants tested positive for drugs during that period. Opponents have pointed to that number to raise questions about the proof of widespread drug use among applicants.

But in the brief this week, the Scott administration said 2,306 additional applicants were otherwise eligible for benefits but did not submit to drug testing.

Eagle: I Am Guilty Of 'Poor Judgment' Not DUI

Apologizing to constituents Wednesday, Rep. Dana Eagle, R-Cape Coral, admitted to reckless driving and "poor judgment," but disputed being drunk when he was arrested for driving under the influence last month in Tallahassee.

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Credit Florida House of Representatives
Rep. Dana Eagle, R-Cape Coral

Eagle, 30, vowed during a news conference at his Cape Coral office to continue representing his Lee County district and to pursue re-election this fall. The first-term House member also said he does not have a drinking problem.

Eagle acknowledged he drank alcohol on Easter Sunday, the day before the arrest. But the reason he was seen by police driving erratically during the early morning of April 21 was that he was "overly exhausted" and trying to eat.

"The officer had every right to pull me over because of my driving," Eagle said. "While I respectfully disagree with his conclusions, I do not dispute that I am guilty of driving recklessly and using poor judgment."

According to a probable-cause affidavit, Eagle was stopped by a Tallahassee police officer after the vehicle he was driving exited a Taco Bell, nearly hit a median and a curb and ran a red light.

The officer reported that Eagle's vehicle emitted a "strong odor of alcoholic beverage" and that Eagle's "eyes were bloodshot, watery, and glassy." At the time, Eagle denied drinking alcohol, saying the odor came from friends who had been drinking and were in the vehicle earlier.

Eagle refused a roadside sobriety test, telling the officer he was "good to get home," before being arrested, according to the report. Eagle also refused to provide a breath sample.

Eagle told reporters Wednesday he regretted not taking the breath test, which triggers an automatic one-year suspension of a driver's license. Eagle stepped down after the arrest from his job as director of development with the Lee County Building Industry Association, where he had been employed for the past year.

Eagle told reporters Wednesday that was "simply a coincidence," an internal matter between himself and the executive director.