TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Preliminary figures on a new Florida law requiring drug tests for welfare applicants show that they are less likely than other people to use drugs, not more. One famous Floridian suggests that it's the people who came up with the law who should be submitting specimens.
Columnist and best-selling author Carl Hiaasen offered to pay for drug testing for all 160 members of the Florida Legislature in what he called "a patriotic whiz-fest." Several of the law's supporters said they're on board.
"There is a certain public interest in going after hypocrisy," Hiaasen said Tuesday, two days after he made his proposal in a Miami Herald column.
"Folks that are applying for DCF (Department of Children and Families) money normally wouldn't be standing in that line, and on top of that humiliation they now get to pee in a cup so they can get grocery money for their kids," Hiaasen told The Associated Press in an interview at his Vero Beach home.
Gov. Rick Scott and other supporters of the law -- the only one of its kind currently on the books in the U.S. -- said the tests will save the state cash by weeding out people who would use welfare money on drugs. Critics said that just a few months after it went into effect, the law has already refuted the idea that people receiving public assistance are more likely to use drugs.
Preliminary figures show that about 2.5 percent of up to 2,000 applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families have tested positive since the law went into effect in July. Another 2 percent declined to take the test, Department of Children and Families officials said.
The Justice Department estimates that 6 percent of Americans 12 and older use illegal drugs.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley recently backed down from claims that half of the people wanting work at the Energy Department's Savannah River Site failed drug tests. Haley said the unproven remark shaped her outlook on linking unemployment benefits to drug tests.
The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the Florida law, saying it violates welfare applicants' constitutional right against unreasonable searches. For that reason, a federal appellate court struck down a similar Michigan law in 2003.
The state hasn't said how much it believes it has saved by requiring the drug tests, but some of the law's most ardent backers said they're willing to take Hiaasen up on his offer.