Pubdate: Fri, 25 Mar 2011
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2011 The State
Author: Jim Davenport
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


Some South Carolina lawmakers said Thursday that unemployed residents
should lose jobless benefits if they don't show up for a drug test
offered by a prospective employer.

Legislation under debate by senators also would strip any of South
Carolina's thousands of unemployed residents of benefits for failing a
drug test. Its advocates said job seekers who refuse or miss tests -
even while on a different job interview - should lose benefits.

"A lot of time we'll offer a job, but when we tell them where to go do
drug testing, they never show up because they know they're going to
fail it," said state Sen. Ray Cleary, a Murrells Inlet Republican.

Legislators have tried for years to require drug tests to receive
benefits, which employers help pay through taxes. But the state's
chronically high unemployment has become a factor: South Carolina owes
$964 million in federal loans that have kept checks paid during the
recession. The state's 10.5 percent jobless rate in January was the
nation's sixth highest. February's figures are expected to be released

The role drugs play in South Carolina's employment picture has been
rife with hyperbole. In 2009, the state's top economic development
executive blamed drug abuse and failed tests for the state's high
unemployment rate. But the state's jobs agency says drugs are
generally a factor in only about 1,000 of more than 400,000
unemployment claims, or less than 0.3 percent.

Last year, efforts to set up a pilot drug-testing program failed amid
questions about legal challenges and the state's cost for
administering the tests.

The current measure would have prospective employers pay for the tests
and allowed to report violators, though some lawmakers want to make
that a requirement. Jobless workers would lose any remaining benefits
but could appeal the loss to the state.

Not showing up for the test would be treated the same as failing it,
regardless of the circumstances, said Greg Ryberg, an Aiken Republican
who heads the Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee.

For instance, someone getting jobless benefits could decide the money
and benefits look more appealing somewhere else and decide not to
continue pursuing the application. That would not matter, Ryberg said.

"If he's going to three other interviews, he ought not agree to take
the test," Ryberg said.

But Sen. Joel Lourie, a Columbia Democrat, said such a law could
improperly punish people. "You could get caught up in an unintentional
disqualification purely based on a selection that had nothing to do
with the drug test," Lourie said.

Sen. Phil Leventis, a Sumter Democrat, said he wouldn't stand in the
way of trying to make people more responsible but wondered if they
should be able to challenge a test.

"I am concerned that people have the opportunity to due process," he

The bill was sent back to a subcommittee when Lourie asked about what
appeared to be a loophole: People could admit they had abused drugs
and wouldn't lose benefits.

South Carolina isn't alone in trying to link drug use to unemployment
benefits this year.

Similar legislation has failed this year in Arkansas and New Mexico.
Arkansas' measure was more limited, requiring testing only for
methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin, and a Senate panel killed it. New
Mexico lawmakers adjourned for the year without passing the bill,
killing it.  
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake