Vocal drug-test foes voted down

The Iowa House passes a bill that would allow random testing of employees.


Iowa employers would be given broader authority to test workers for illicit drugs or alcohol under a bill approved Thursday by the House.

The legislation, backed by most Republican representatives and opposed by most Democrats, would rewrite Iowa's 10-year-old work-place drug-testing law. The vote was 54-44.

Now it's the Senate's turn to debate a bill that would allow random testing of employees, as well as tests under particular circumstances, such as during an Investigation of a factory accident

Competing Arguments

Supporters said the measure would help make the workplace more safe and give employers the flexibility they need to root out drugs.

"More tools are needed to combat drug abuse in our society, and that includes the workplace," said Rep. Steven Sukup, R-Dougherty.

"The bill makes it safer for the hard-working and dedicated workers that we have In Iowa."

Critics said it was a draconian measure that could leave employees vulnerable to harassment and false accusations of drug use.

"We need to have drugs out of the workplace, but we also need to balance the rights of the employees with the rights of the employer," said Rep. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids.

Employers Push for It

Workplace drug-testing legislation has been considered periodically in recent years. Some of Iowa's largest employers, including Lennox Indutstries Inc. and Maytag Corp., have pushed for more drug-testing authority. But labor unions have resisted changes they say would allow "willy-nilly" testing.

Republican control of both the House and Senate this year appears to improve prospects for revising current state law. Sukup said that, because it is a very restrictive law, there has been little workplace drug-testing in Iowa.

Democrats opposed to the bill dominated the several hours of debate Thursday. They said it was "anti-worker" and "tipped in favor of the employer."

Rep. Don Shoultz, D-Waterloo, said he feared that broad drug-testing authority could be used to harass employees.

Shoultz said a supervisor "could walk through the plant and look at someone and say, 'All right, I think there is some suspicions here. You go down and report and pee in a bottle.' That is the most demeaning thing that I think we can do to someone in the workplace."

Rep. Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque, tried to make the issue more concrete for his colleagues. He distributed copies of a report of a drug test that he voluntarily took last week. The results came back negative for all drugs screened.

Test Lawmakers, Too?

Rep. Ed Fallon, D-Des Moines, called the bill "an insult to the working people of this state." He offered amendments that would have required testing of lawmakers, as well as the member of the clergy who delivers the daily prayer in the legislature.

Besides random testing of all workers, the bill would allow employers to test all job applicants, those who hold "safety-sensitive" jobs, those involved in workplace accidents and those who have completed a drug rehabilitation program.

Drug tests also could be ordered in situations where there is a reasonable suspicion that an employee has taken illegal drugs or is under the influence of alcohol. Under current law, there must be "probable cause" that an employee is impaired on the job, which is a higher legal standard.

Des Moines Register, February 28, 1997