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Court rejects Florida law requiring drug testing for welfare recipients

A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld a temporary ban on a law requiring drug testing of Florida's welfare recipients.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that a lower court was right to temporarily halt enforcement of the state's drug-testing program. The opinion said the state of Florida hadn't shown a "substantial special need" for such mandatory drug testing.

The ruling, authored by Circuit Judge Rosemary Barkett, added that "there is nothing inherent to the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a `concrete danger' that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use."

Tuesday's decision means that the law will continue to not be enforced as the courts continue to resolve the underlying legal issues.

Florida officials previously argued that Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, benefits are intended to ensure family stability and child welfare, and that drug use subverts both of those aims.

But opponents said drug testing as a condition of getting welfare benefits is an unconstitutional search and seizure.

Florida's law requires welfare applicants to pay for and pass a drug test to get benefits. The drug testing was in effect in the latter half of 2011 before being halted by a federal judge. The American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the law's constitutionality.

The state then appealed the preliminary injunction to the 11th Circuit.

The circuit court's opinion also dismissed the state's argument that the testing for drugs without suspicion is OK because potential recipients sign a consent form.

The court said the state cannot condition welfare benefits "on the applicant's forced waiver" of his constitutional right.