After a roller-coaster ride through the House, a bill that allows state agencies to randomly drug-test their employees was cleared by a final committee on Friday.
The House State Affairs Committee cleared the bill (HB 1205) by a party-line vote of 9-6.
The measure allows, but does not require, state agencies to randomly test workers every three months. It makes it easier to fire those workers who show positive for drugs after a first test that has been confirmed.
An earlier committee had rejected the measure after Republicans and Democrats questioned its cost and legality. Rep. Jimmie Smith, the Inverness Republican sponsoring the bill, changed it so that no extra money for drug tests is needed. Tests will be paid for out of the agencies' existing budgets.
Under this latest version of the revived bill, a random sample of employees to be tested can't be more than 10 percent of the agency's workforce and must be generated by an "independent third-party" computer.
Smith told the panel he wasn't insinuating that state workers have more drug problems than society at large, and didn't have any evidence to that effect. But drug use anywhere shouldn't be tolerated, he added.
"We can change society as we know it," Smith said of his bill. "Be brave enough to do it."
Rep. Alan Williams, a Democrat from Tallahassee who represents thousands of state employees, said the bill would do nothing to help the already depressed morale of those constituents.
"It's the wrong direction at the wrong time," he said. "'Just say 'no' to this bill."
But Rep. Scott Plakon pointed out that employees of private companies already work under the possibility they'll be tested.
"I don't see why state workers should be treated any better than the private sector," the Longwood Republican said.
Civil liberties experts and public worker advocates continue to oppose the bill as unconstitutional and unfair.
"It's a Big Brother act and we don't believe in that," said Gail Marie Perry of the Communications Workers of America.
Drug testing invokes the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizure.
Courts generally frown on drug testing without a reasonable suspicion of employee drug use, though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled "suspicionless" testing constitutional in a handful of situations, including on student athletes and railroad employees after a major accident.
A separate executive order by Gov. Rick Scott requiring random drug testing of state workers resulted in a lawsuit and a hearing in that case was held this week. Scott supports Smith's bill.
The bill should next go to the full House for consideration.