Official: Drug test requirement may be proposed

Official expects SD lawmaker to propose drug testing as qualification for jobless benefits

Associated Press

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -- A South Dakota lawmaker may ask next year's Legislature to consider a bill that would require people to take drug tests before getting unemployment benefits, state Labor Secretary Pam Roberts said Wednesday.However, federal law prohibits states from requiring drug tests to determine whether people are entitled to unemployment benefits or payments from other federal assistance programs, Roberts said.Roberts said Rep. Tom Jones, D-Viborg, has talked with department officials about introducing a bill requiring applicants to pass a drug test before getting jobless benefits. She said she told him he needs to talk to South Dakota's congressional delegation because a change in federal law would be required to allow such testing.Jones did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment Wednesday.Roberts talked about the proposal during a meeting of the state Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council. She said if a bill requiring drug testing for people seeking jobless benefits is introduced in the 2012 legislative session, she would probably have to testify that it would not be legal.Council member Paul Aylward of Huron, a labor union official, said he is offended by the proposal."We're picking out unemployed workers and by inference saying they're all on drugs. I don't think there's any evidence of that," Aylward said.Similar bills that would have required or encouraged drug testing before people get welfare benefits were rejected earlier this year by the Legislature. Supporters said it would help people stop using illegal drugs and would make sure tax money is spent wisely, but opponents said it was impractical and would deny services to children whose parents failed drug tests.Roberts said when she attended a recent national meeting of state labor officials, the group was split on whether to ask Congress to change the law so drug testing would be allowed to determine whether people qualified for jobless benefits.She said she is not aware of any state that has tried to deny unemployment benefits to people who fail drug tests. But some states are considering making people who are already receiving unemployment benefits take drug tests to see if they meet requirements for being available for work.The Labor Department has no money to pay for drug testing, so such testing would have to be funded with money provided by the Legislature, Roberts said.

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