The South Carolina Senate spent most of its time in session Thursday debating legislation that would deny unemployed workers their unemployment checks if they tested positive for illegal drug use. The measure would only establish a pilot program to randomly test 500 recipients. If enough workers tested positively, the program would become a permanent requirement. It’s part of a debate begun this week concerning the Employment Security Commission.
Greenville Senator David Thomas says A worker’s benefits would be restored if the applicant completed a treatment program. The applicant would then receive random testing, and testing positive would result in benefits being stopped until more treatment is completed.
Orangurg Democrat John Matthews challenged Thomas, questioning how an employer could deny unemployment funds that the worker had earned.
(Thomas-Matthews on drug testing MP3 2:38)
Thomas-Matthews on drug testing MP3 2:38
The unemployed workers selected for random testing would be required to pay for the test, and then would have to pay for 30 days of drug treatment if the test outcome is positive. Thomas says the state’s drug abuse service agency would perform the testing but would not have to pick up the tab.
Thomas says a report from the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce points out that up to 20 percent of unemployed workers may use illegal drugs.
Orangeburg Democrat Brad Hutto, an attorney like Thomas, says the legislation would never meet constitutional muster and Dorchester Republican Michael Rose, another attorney, agreed.
Thomas withdrew the bill and said he would submit it next week after making it more specific. Currently it only includes testing for illegal drugs, not legal pharmaceuticals used illegally, like Oxycontin.
In other news related to the Senate’s discussion of Employment Security Commission issues, an independent consultant has found problems at the agency. State lawmakers have begun reviewing the report from The Lucas Group of Boston. That report says the ESC is not doing enough to make sure people are looking for job possibilities. It indicates that the state could save $500 million over the next decade through tougher laws.