Failed drug test could mean end to unemployment benefits

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – For South Carolina's unemployed, failing or refusing a drug test after a job offer could mean the end to that unemployment check. The SC House passed a bill that would allow employers to contact the SC Department of Employment and Workforce if a prospective employee fails or refuses a drug test.

The bill passed the House in late March by a vote of 70-24.

"You are not ready, able and available to be hired and go to work," Aiken County Representative Thomas Young, Jr. argued. Young, a Republican, co-authored the bill and argued on the floor that the standard for drawing unemployment benefits is being ready to go to work right away. "We shouldn't be paying unemployment benefits to someone that doesn't meet that definition," said Young.

"It's a little bit insulting to those who have lost their jobs for this body to suggest that they're unemployed because of drug use," Representative Joe Neal told the House. Neal brought up Governor Haley's accusations that half of job applicants at the Savannah River nuclear plant had failed drug tests, but SRS records showed that less than 1 percent had failed.

Democrats think Haley's misinformation led to the unemployment drug testing bill.

"This money is supposed to be taking care of your bills in the first place, not buying drugs," unemployed Columbia resident Robert Lyons said. Lyons is back at the DEW in Columbia, trying to sign up for unemployment benefits after Amazon laid him off last week.

Lyons said he doesn't think the bill is a good idea because he said some people "need substances to cope with their stresses."

"Some people need things, certain things, or a way out to deal with the problems they're having in everyday life," Marcus Bobo said. Bobo is an unemployed barber who is trying to sign up for unemployment. He thinks drug testing people looking for work is not government's business.

"You're entitled to your own personal life. I mean, if government is trying to control what you do in your spare time, in your own personal life, what privacy do you have?" Bobo asked, "Drugs is something that is totally wrong, I can agree with that, but people that choose to do that... sometimes they are dealing with stress and have stressful problems from losing their job, that's their way out."

Unemployment benefits come from public funds. Part of the unemployment dollars come from payroll deductions of those currently employed and other funds come from tax dollars paid to the federal government.

"There's 124 of us in this room and we all receive state funding," Richland County Democrat Christopher Hart argued on the House floor, "So, everybody, let's go to the restroom. Let's get a cup and let's submit it before I get a check."

Hart proposed the idea of drug testing anyone who receives any state dollars during a floor debate last week. Hart said it was discriminatory to single out the state's unemployed with the drug testing standard while others on public assistance are not required to meet the same standard.

Hart's idea would include the people who want to make the drug test requirement law, "Let's tell the people we're mandating that you're going to take a drug test. Let's submit our drug test. Let's all 124 of us go and submit our drug test first."

The bill is headed to the state Senate where it'll receive first reading and then be assigned to a committee for debate.

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