9 Investigates losing effort to drug test state workers, welfare recipients



ORLANDO, Fla. - 9 Investigates an expensive legal fight that has taxpayers footing the bill.

Florida has spent $380,000 in what has so far been a consistent losing effort to drug test state workers and people on welfare.

Investigative reporter Christopher Heath spent the day following the money and learned nearly half a million has been spent so far, and the state's legal costs are still growing.

The total does not take into account the cost to Florida for state attorneys, court-ordered fees and the drug-testing programs.

Now, the plan to drug test state workers and people on welfare, a plan that was billed as a way to save money, is costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend.

"Knowing that you are going to be drug tested, hopefully, will give you another incentive to not use drugs," said Gov. Rick Scott in his first year of office.

The following year, Scott said, "I think it's the right thing to do for the state. We want to have, just like a private company, you want to have a productive work force."

Two plans came to light; one to drug test people on welfare and the other to test state employees. Both were quickly challenged in court.

Orlando resident and U.S. Navy veteran Luis Lebron filed the first suit with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Lebron said he doesn’t take drugs but said the test is an invasion of his privacy.

The courts agreed.

But the fight hasn't ended, and according to records released to the ACLU by the state, Florida has paid over $380,000 in court fees, reimbursement to state employees and attorney's fees to private law firms.

According to the records, one Orlando law firm took in $163,000 representing the Department of Children and Families in one suit.

And the executive office of the governor spent another $100,000 in its fight with state workers, with timelines showing much of the money spent was spent after the courts stuck down the drug testing orders.

"I think taxpayers are frustrated whenever they see government wasting massive amounts of money," said Doug Head of County Watch.

Head said it's a waste of taxpayer money to continue fighting a legal battle that the state has lost at every level.

"It becomes obvious it's a political fight, not a legal fight," he said.

Heath spoke with the governor's office on Wednesday and was told the governor will continue to fight for Florida taxpayers, saying the state deserves a drug-free workforce and that children deserve to live in drug-free homes.