The topic of drug testing made an encore presentation at this year’s legislative session.
In past years, lawmakers centered the debate around drug testing folks on welfare. The concern was that legislators didn’t want state money subsidizing a drug habit.
This year, the heat is off welfare mothers and has instead shifted to those on unemployment.
A bill introduced and being discussed would deny unemployment benefits to those who lost a job because of a positive drug test. Rep. Mike Madden’s, R-Buffalo, House Bill 89 would also deny benefits to those who have a positive drug test while receiving unemployment benefits.
We support the idea of denying employment benefits to those who have failed drug tests while on the job. Those who use drugs on the job endanger the safety of themselves and those they work around. Those who use drugs while on the time-clock should also lose the benefit of unemployment. Taking drugs or alcohol on the job is a willful act. And, as we’ve said before, more must be done to make Wyoming’s workplaces safer. This is a good first step.
Yet, we have a concern that drug screening those who have qualified for unemployment benefits — and were not fired for a positive drug test --is an unwarranted intrusion by the state government into their lives.
Drug testing those on unemployment seems to assume the worst of those looking for work; that those looking for work are also more apt to do drugs.
Besides the cost of implementing the program, besides the cost of paying for drug screening, this measure would turn our standard of justice on its head. In this scenario, those who are unemployed would be assumed guilty until proven innocent by a clean drug test. If this bill passes, there will be no probable cause to warrant a drug test. You will be targeted simply because you don’t have a job and need government help.
That seems wrong.
Madden said he wasn’t a big supporter of last year’s effort to require welfare recipients to be drug tested.
‘’When you get involved in that, you deal with people with children who suffer,’’ he explained to Star-Tribune reporter Laura Hancock.
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Could he possibly not realize that people who lose their jobs have kids too?
If the unemployed can’t pay their mortgages or other bills, and can’t put enough food on the table to feed their spouses and children, it certainly has a huge impact on their families, plus society in general. A nation that’s trying to recover from a major recession isn’t doing anything positive by taking money out of the economy or adding to the welfare rolls.
Previously, federal law prevented states from allowing drug testing of people who receive unemployment benefits. Under a compromise reached during the recent debate about extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, Democrats in Congress caved in to Republican demands that states be allowed to drug test people who get unemployment benefits.
It appears that Wyoming would foot the bill for all the new drug testing. And, it remains unclear how much money — if any — it would save by booting some drug users from the unemployment rolls. It’s uncertain whether the cost of testing a large number of people would be offset by the drug use.
In reality, we believe the number of people using drugs while looking for new work is probably small.
We also have serious questions about the intrusion of government in the lives of Wyoming citizens. Just because a person is unemployed shouldn’t necessarily mean they should have fewer protections from government intrusion.
Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, called the new policy ‘’a terrible one-two punch to the gut for thousands of struggling Americans.’’
Unlike welfare programs, unemployment is an insurance program that employers and workers pay into to help people pay their bills until they find work.
Kim Floyd, executive secretary of the Wyoming AFL-CIO, said HB89 is ‘’just another way to get around the law and get around the benefits workers earn.’’
The courts have struck down many mandatory drug testing programs, and this one could meet the same fate. In the meantime, if it’s implemented, it could cause a lot of those Wyoming children Madden says he’s worried about to suffer, through no fault of their own.