By Michael Peltier
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida lawmakers on Friday approved a measure allowing state agencies to randomly test up to 10 percent of their employees for illegal drugs and alcohol every 90 days.
The bill would prohibit employers from firing employees who initially test positive but could require them to participate in rehabilitation programs.
The Senate approved House Bill 1205 by a 26-14 vote and sent it to Governor Rick Scott who is expected to sign it into law.
"This is the 21st Century and drug abuse is rampant," said Senator Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla and Senate sponsor of the bill.
Backers of the measure said the voluntary program mirrors efforts that have long been in place in private industry.
"I've had a drug-free workplace for more than 20 years," said Senator Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who is chief executive of a printing company. "I believe that it has contributed to higher quality employees."
Critics said the measure was an intrusive and unnecessary "big government" procedure that would improperly insert the government into an employee's personal life.
"We're talking less personal freedom without probable cause," said Senator Chris Smith, a Democrat from Fort Lauderdale. "This is more government intrusion and more costs."
"It is a waste of our time and our money," said Senator Larcenia Bullard, a Democrat from Miami.
Lawmakers in several states have passed similar measures in the past few years. Florida legislators last year voted to require applicants for federal public assistance to pass a test for illegal drugs. A federal judge barred enforcement of that law pending resolution of a challenge to its constitutionality.
The courts have generally upheld random drug testing for workers in jobs that involve public safety. But opponents say that broader testing of workers who are not suspected of wrongdoing violates their constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizure, and robs them of due process.
(Editing by Anthony Boadle)