MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott has suspended an order requiring all state workers undergo drug testing, pending resolution of a lawsuit that called the tests an illegal search of workers' bodies.
The Republican governor quietly signed the suspension memo on June 10 but it received little public notice until the American Civil Liberties Union obtained and circulated copies on Thursday.
The ACLU sued Scott last month in a federal court. It said mandating drug tests for workers who were not suspected of wrongdoing violated their constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizure, and robbed them of due process.
"We are pleased that this new order has delayed subjecting thousands of state employees to demeaning, invasive and illegal tests of their bodily fluids," Randall Marshall, legal director for the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement.
"But it does not change our Constitutional challenge. Any government search without suspicion of drug use or not directly related to public safety is a violation of privacy protections and we will vigorously move ahead with our challenge."
Scott, who campaigned on a promise of small and limited government, signed an executive order in March requiring state workers to undergo screening for illegal drugs once every three months. It also required pre-employment testing for state job applicants.
The ACLU characterized the suspension as a massive and embarrassing retreat for Scott and an acknowledgment that his testing order was fatally flawed.
Scott said he was confident the courts would uphold the testing program and that it would "ensure a safe, effective, productive and fiscally accountable workforce."
"Nonetheless, while the case is pending, it does not make sense for all agencies to move forward with the logistical issues involved in instituting the new policy," his memo said.
The courts generally have upheld random drug testing for workers in jobs that involve public safety. Scott's suspension order allows testing to continue in the Florida Department of Corrections, which already tests its 21,000 employees.
But testing had not yet begun for the bulk of the 168,000 state workers. Florida was still trying to work out details for the program that was expected to cost millions of dollars. Critics had called it a needless expense at a time when lawmakers had to make drastic spending cuts to tame a $3.6 billion budget deficit.
(Reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Eric Beech)