Archive for February, 2012

Florida is Crazy (About Drug Testing)

Maria Kayanan
Associate Legal Director, ACLU of Florida

There’s trouble in Tallahassee. That’s Tallahassee with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for “Pee in a cup.”

It’s true — Tallahassee’s gone crazy over drug testing.

While a federal judge in Miami mulls over the constitutionality of Gov. Scott’s 2011 Executive Order subjecting all applicants to and employees of agencies within the Governor’s purview to suspicionless drug testing, both chambers of the Florida Legislature are poised to pass sweeping legislation that actually expands drug testing even more broadly.

The bill “debated” in the Florida Senate today (I use that term loosely, because there was no real debate as the bill was rushed through the committee) would allow all agencies to impose random drug testing of all employees and require all job applicants to state agencies to be tested. The legislature can’t wait until our challenge to the Governor’s order is decided before it goes all-out and requires random testing of all state employees and job applicants.

Why this frenzy over drug testing? Is it something in the water? There’s no evidence of reefer madness in capitol elevators; nobody’s cooking meth in the cafeteria.

One answer may lie in who’s lobbying for the bill. It’s no secret that Gov. Scott has a missionary-like zeal for collecting and examining the urine of poor people and State workers; lawyers from his office have been bending the ears of skeptical legislators, but have shied away from defending their legal analysis at the committee hearings themselves.

The State doesn’t get it: state agencies are not private employers. The U.S. Constitution sets the bounds for what government can legally demand of its employees – not the Governor or the Legislature. And it can’t demand their urine without reasonable suspicion that the employee is using or abusing drugs, or holds a safety-sensitive position. We’re not making that up: it’s the law of the land, as spoken by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Tallahassee doesn’t care. It doesn’t care about the Fourth Amendment; it doesn’t care that taxpayers keeping paying for expensive litigation required only to learn the same civics lesson; and it sure doesn’t care about casting a net of suspicion around the hard-working men and women who do the State’s work.

Tell the legislature: “I trust Florida women, so should you.”

Baylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida

If you’ve been watching the news lately, you know that women are facing an unprecedented nationwide attack. Now, anti-reproductive-rights forces in the Florida legislature have joined the war on women’s health with a House committee passing what may be the most dangerous attack on women’s access to abortion care in recent Florida history.

Tell the Florida legislature to stop playing doctor and trust Florida women to make their own private medical decisions.

The bill passed yesterday began as a targeted attack on medical facilities that provide abortion care to women, placing restrictive regulations on these clinics that no other kind of medical facility faces — an effort to regulate clinics that provide reproductive health services out of existence. But last-minute amendments require doctors to give their patients “medical advice” based on the junk science of “fetal pain” which has been debunked by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and is designed to intimidate and shame women.

Deciding whether and when to become a parent is one of the most private and important decisions a person can make. Because no two women’s situations are the same, the decision should be made by her, her family, and her doctor — not by politicians. No government should force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term if she has decided she can’t.

If the legislature passes this bill or its companion in the Senate, it would be a crowning achievement to those who want government to intrude into the doctor-patient relationship and ignore the individual needs and situations of each woman.

The war on women’s health must stop. Tell Florida legislators to trust women to know what’s best for their futures and families.

Defending State Employees Against Suspicionless Drug Testing

Shalini Goel Agarwal
Staff Attorney, ACLU of Florida 

Yesterday,  it was a privilege to present arguments to Judge Ursula Ungaro of the federal district court in the Southern District of Florida about the unconstitutionality of Executive Order 11-58, an order by the Governor requiring mandatory suspicionless drug testing of all employees in and applicants to state agencies under his supervision.

I pointed out that under a long line of Supreme Court cases, suspicionless urinalysis by the government of its employees violates the Fourth Amendment, unless the employee’s job is safety-sensitive.  Safety-sensitive jobs include, for example, railroad workers involved in major accidents and customs officers who carry guns or interdict drugs.  They do not include government accountants, long-range planners at the Department of Juvenile Justice, and candidates vying to become Governor.

Because the notion that suspicionless drug testing of government employees must be limited to safety-sensitive jobs is so clear in the law, I don’t know of any other governmental entity that has even tried to institute a drug testing policy as broad as the Governor’s.  And certainly no court has ever upheld this type of blanket drug testing policy targeting all employees and applicants.

I also pointed out that under the Drug-Free Workplace Act the Governor has had the power for over twenty years to drug test those reasonably suspected of drug use and those in safety-sensitive positions.  There is no reason to think that this type of testing could not address the Governor’s concerns, particularly given that, prior to the Governor’s executive order, over 99% of applicants and employees tested were drug-free.

We look forward to Judge Ungaro’s ruling on this important constitutional issue.

Private Prison Disaster Averted (for now)

Julie Ebenstein
Policy and Advocacy Counsel, ACLU of Florida

Yesterday, the Florida Senate averted disaster by voting down (on a 19-21) a proposal to create the largest private prison system in America. The plan would have turned over nearly 30 Florida correctional facilities to private, for-profit companies, which have would run the prisons under contract with the state.

Florida operates the third-largest prison system in the United States, a $2.2 billion-a-year enterprise overseeing nearly 101,000 inmates and another 112,800 on community supervision. The prison population has nearly quadrupled since harsh sentencing laws were passed in the 1980s – Florida incarcerated just 26,471 people in 1980.

Florida’s prison system needs reform, but private prisons aren’t reform – they deform the process by linking corporate profit to incarceration.

Last week I joined a group of national criminal justice experts for a press conference in the Capitol to tell lawmakers that if they want to save money, they should reform mandatory minimum sentencing, invest in re-entry programs and re-visit parole policies that feed the addiction to incarceration. Maybe they heard us.

Privatization schemes, often coupled with inflated claims of cost savings, distract policymakers from an inescapable truth: The best way to reduce prison spending is to reduce the number of people we imprison.

For more on the problematic incentives injected into incarceration by the profit motive, see Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration, the ACLU’s recent, comprehensive report on the private prison industry.

Also check out this opinion piece in the Palm Beach Post by the ACLU National Prison Project’s David Shapiro. David was one of the experts who joined me at last week’s press conference and his article ran yesterday, the day of the successful Senate vote.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Gregory Brothers, ACLU of FL Team Up on Photographers’ Rights

Derek Newton
Communications Director, ACLU of Florida

 A couple of weeks ago at the Sundance Film Festival, the open-collaborative production company hitRECord released a short animated music video on photographers’ First Amendment rights, in collaboration with the ACLU of Florida.

Ironically, while sharing digital information is fast, easy and quickly becoming universal, getting the word out about the right to record and share information is still a challenge. Even though the ACLU has drafted and released written material on the rights of photographers, a written pamphlet about the right to capture and share digital images just wouldn’t do. So we reached out to the directors and artists at htRECord to help spread the word about the right to take pictures in public.

Enlisting the help of The Gregory Brothers (best known for Auto-Tune the News), HitRecord reprised their song “You Can’t Turn the Lights Off Now,” from an earlier animated video about Prop 8 to fit the new message. Then, just six days before Sundance, HitRecord director Joseph Gordon-Levitt, asked artists around the world to help put images to the music for the big show.

In less than a week, more than 163 artists had contributed to the final video. Gordon-Levitt (aka RegularJOE) directed the final production and introduced it Sundance.

(Please note that by playing this clip You Tube and Google will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see You Tube’s privacy statement on their website and Google’s privacy statement on theirs to learn more. To view the ACLU’s privacy statement, click here.)

While the video is fun, the message is serious. Taking photos in public of public actions — especially police — is a protected right.

But that has not stopped police from seizing cameras, destroying pictures or making arrests. We’ve seen it happen in mass protests such as the “Occupy” movements and in a high profile police involved shooting here in Miami Beach last year.

People have a right to monitor their government and share what they learn. That’s why the ACLU will keep fighting for the right to keep government — including the police — open and honest by defending the rights of photographers. Like the song says, “Corruption thrives on secrecy. Transparency is good for you and me.”

Learn more about photographers’ rights: Sign up for breaking news alerts, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Welcome to the ACLU of Florida Blog of Rights!

Baylor Johnson
Online Advocacy Coordinator, ACLU of Florida.

Hello and welcome to the ACLU of Florida Blog of Rights! This blog is a resource for friends of liberty to learn about civil liberties news in Florida and the work that the ACLU is doing to defend the constitutional rights of Floridians.

In case you’re not familiar with the ACLU of Florida, we are freedom’s watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Florida Constitution, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

On this blog, we will share news on civil liberties stories going on in Florida, projects that the ACLU of Florida is working on, and opportunities for you to get involved and help us protect civil liberties in our state!

If you have a story that you would like to have featured on the blog, feel free to send a message to bjohnson@aclufl.org with “Blog of Rights” in the subject line.

Thank you and once again, welcome to the ACLU of Florida Blog of Rights!



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