Workforce administrator: Proposed drug-testing bill for unemployment a benefit, will take work to maintain

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP/KAIT) - Arkansas state lawmakers are weighing a proposal that would require people to submit to drug testing in order to receive unemployment benefits.

Under the bill, new applicants for unemployment benefits would be required to submit to a drug screen while the state would randomly test people who are already receiving benefits.

Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson filed Senate Bill 38. Sixteen other senators sponsored the bill. Hutchinson says the drug testing encourages people receiving benefits to stay drug-free and therefore increase their chances of securing employment.

St. Bernard's Medical Center Vice President of Human Resources Jacque Heard believes the proposed bill would benefit the Arkansas workforce, but also create a significant amount of work for the entity responsible for running the program.

"As an employer, if something like that were to come to pass then what I could see as a benefit to employers is making sure that people are free and clear of drugs and alcohol," she said. "When we think about what our governing body is thinking about doing moving forward, administratively it's much bigger than it would seem upon its face value."

St. Bernard's applicants must submit to substance abuse testing via a urine or blood sample. Heard says people are tested for amphetamines, methadone, barbiturates, propoxyphene, cocaine, methaqualone, PCP/phencyclidine, benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, opiates and any derivatives of the chemical substances.

Heard says the significant amount of work comes in following up on the results of the tests because positive results do not automatically signal substance abuse.

"Some of them someone could actually have a prescription," she said. "We look at that positive drug screen and we cross reference what they test positive for with their prescribing physician to make sure that it was appropriate and they're taking it with normal limits."

According to the bill, the Department of Workforce Services would be responsible for managing the program.

Another state lawmaker, Democratic Sen. Stephanie Flowers says that such drug-testing would be unconstitutional. She says there's no reason to assume that people receiving unemployment benefits are illegally using drugs.

Flowers has proposed an amendment to the bill that would require drug-testing for the state's elected officials and all public employees.

The Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor is scheduled to review the bill on January 30.

Copyright 2013 KAIT. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.