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Arizona Lawmakers Propose Drug-Testing People Seeking Unemployment Benefits

Arizona Lawmakers Propose Drug-Testing People Seeking Unemployment Benefits
Daniel Lobo via Flickr

Among the first bills submitted this legislative session is a proposal from a trio of Republicans to create a drug-testing program for people seeking unemployment insurance.

Perhaps the most important part of the legislation from Representatives Phil Lovas and David Livingston and Senator Judy Burges is that it wouldn't apply to everyone seeking benefits.

This bill is a result of a federal battle in 2012, when members of Congress argued over extensions of the payroll tax cut. The deal included a number of things, including giving states the ability to drug-test applicants for unemployment assistance if they're pursuing work in an industry that typically demands drug testing.

There's been an argument about how extensive the list of jobs that require drug tests would be. The federal Department of Labor is tasked with making the rule about that, and it appears that it hasn't done so.

A law similar to the one proposed here was passed in Texas last year, and according to a University of Houston Law Center analysis, a total of nine states have adopted a similar law.

Here's an interesting caveat to Arizona's bill, House Bill 2030. If someone applies for unemployment benefits, he or she would have to take a "drug-screening assessment" before being forced to provide a urine sample.

According to the text of the legislation, "The drug-screening assessment must consist of a written questionnaire to be completed by the individual and must be designed to accurately determine the reasonable likelihood that the individual is using a drug."

If someone passes the written test, then he or she wouldn't have to take the drug test. This apparently leaves open the possibility to fill out this application with a crack pipe in your left hand, while writing, "Drugs? Never heard of 'em!" with your right hand, and your check will be in the mail shortly.

Those who failed the written test and the drug test would have to wait four weeks before testing again. The bill also would provide several other caveats, so someone who fails a test for a prescribed medication or is actively attending a treatment program would remain eligible for unemployment benefits.

Click here for the complete text of the bill.

In 2009, Arizona became the first state to pass a bill calling for drug-testing welfare recipients, and it was reported a few years later that a grand total of one person had failed the drug test. The convenient argument was that the drug-testing discouraged drug users from applying for welfare.

In 2012, Republican Steve Smith, then in the Senate, proposed mandatory testing of all people seeking to collect unemployment benefits, plus random drug testing for those who continued to receive benefits. That bill passed the Senate, but was held in the House.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.


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