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By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - A federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday that Florida Governor Rick Scott cannot require all state employees to take random drug tests and told the state to identify which government workers it believes should undergo periodic testing.
Scott, a Republican, issued an executive order in March 2011 ordering drug testing for all state employees, regardless of whether they were suspected of drug use, arguing the measure was similar to financial disclosures required for some workers.
He later suspended the order, which has been challenged in court by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The decision by the three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sends the case back to a U.S. District Court in Miami for further consideration.
In a ruling last year, U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro tossed out Scott's executive order, saying random drug tests of the state's 85,000 state workers violated the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches.
Scott appealed the decision and argued that "state employees possessed a diminished privacy interest." A state law Scott supported requiring drug tests for welfare recipients has also been tied up in the courts.
The federal appeals court ruled that Scott's drug testing order "almost certainly sweeps far too broadly." But it said that Ungaro's order knocking it down also invalidated longtime drug testing requirements for police, prison guards, pilots and operators of heavy machinery.
State worker unions did not challenge the constitutionality of random testing of law enforcement and workers in safety-sensitive jobs.
"No matter how much Governor Scott wants people to believe otherwise, the fact remains that people don't have to give up their privacy, dignity and constitutional protections in order to serve our communities," said Alma Gonzalez, a lawyer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Scott said in a statement that he would continue to argue that all state workers should be tested for drug use.
"Many Floridians are required to take drug tests in their workplace and it is only right for state workers paid with taxpayer funds to be required to do the same," he said.
"We will go forward in arguing this case in both the appellate and trial courts in order to ensure that taxpayer funds are safeguarded from misuse by ensuring our state workforce is drug free," Scott added.
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Lisa Shumaker)