Florida legislator wants random drug tests for the unemployed

The Raw Story | March 16, 2009
By David Edwards and Muriel Kane

Employers have justified drug tests in the workplace by pointing to such negative effects of drug use as absenteeism and work-related injuries. Now a Florida legislator has proposed that random drug-testing also be applied to those receiving unemployment insurance, justifying it as a way to make state funds go further.

Florida State Senator Michael S. Bennett told Fox News host Steve Doocy on Monday that with the unemployment rate in his recession-battered state running between 10% and 11%, he worries that the Unemployment Trust Fund might be exhausted. 

"I wanted to ensure that people who are qualified for unemployment -- that the money would be there when they actually go down and get unemployment and that we weren't supporting the people who were not able to go to work," Bennett explained. "It was nothing against the people who were using the drugs as much as it was to ensure that the people who needed unemployment, it would be there when they got there."

Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance, which is dedicated to ending the "war on drugs," responded that "to require someone to pass a drug test to get their unemployment insurance after they've been laid off is pretty cruel -- and to require them to pay for the test themselves is even more cruel."

"It's a pretty degrading process," Piper went on. "You have to urinate in front of another person. ... You have to tell complete strangers if you're on birth control or Viagra or if you're suffering from depression."

"Normal, everyday Americans shouldn't have to go through that," insisted Piper. "We're talking about people who've already paid into the unemployment system. They've been working hard already, and it's simply unfair to throw another hurdle to feeding their families."

"He makes a good argument," Doocy agreed. "Unemployment insurance is money that people have already paid into the system. Why shouldn't they get it if they're laid off?"

"When you file for unemployment," Bennett replied, "basically you're saying 'I'm ready, willing, and -- quote -- able to go to work. If the person who pays into the unemployment has to pass a drug test ... to pay into it, surely the people who are taking out would not object to having to pass the same stringent test. ... If you're not able to go to work because you can't pass a drug test, why should you draw unemployment?"

"Clearly the people he's talking about were already capable of working," Piper commented. "They shouldn't have to take a drug test to prove something to any one."

Bennett, who recently proposed freezing the pay of county clerks and commissioners and similar low-level state employees, may be sincere in saying he is only trying to save money. However, according to election disclosure forms, he did receive a $500 donation to his 2006 election campaign from Abbott Laboratories, which provides workplace drug test kits.