Drug-testing bill may face stormy passage in Senate


It could be a rough trip through the Senate for the House-approved bill to expand employers' rights to test their woriers for drugs.

The bill,which is a top priority for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry and Republican leaders in both legislative chambers, won approval in the House nearly two weeks ago.

But when it arrived in the Senate last week, Senate President Mary Kramer, R-West Des Moines, held on to it for a few days before assigning it to a committee.

Subject matter and precedent dictated the bill go to the Business and Labor Committee. But if Kramer sent it there, it would go to a panel with a chairman who has been a vocal critic of the legislation - Sen. Jack Rife, R-Durant.

From the beginning of the session, Rife said any version of the bill to come from his committee would contain safeguards assuring such testing isn't used by employers to harass workers. He also wants to ensure that workers have ample ability to sue an employer who violates the confidentiality of test results or who otherwise breaches privacy rights

In the end, Kramer assigned the bill to the Judiciary Committee, a panel viewed as less hostile to the cause of liberalizing Iowa's 10-year-old drug-testing law.

Asked about the decision to bypass Rife's committee, Kramer was forthright: "One of our colleagues is not very excited about doing it, so rather than make an issue of it - because so many of our colleagues do want to do it - we sent it to Judiciary."

Asked his reaction to being bypassed, Rife said; "I wasn't happy with it."

But Rife said he's not about to give up the fight to narrow the House-passed drug-testing bill, which he said would allow employers to use drug-testing as harassment.

So Rife will ask his conmittee to initiate its own more-restrictive drug-testihg bill. That would allow him to bypass Kramer's authority to assign bills to committee.

But in the legislative cat-and-mouse game that drug-testug is becoming, it would seem that Kramer, who is allied with Senate Majority leader Stewart Iverson, R-Dows, has the advantage. Even if Rife's committee generates and approves its own version, Iverson has the athority simply to ignore it when he schedules Senate debate.

But Rife doesn't view himself as powerless on the issue. The House-approved bill lacks sufficient support to pass in the Senate, he said. That means leaders must eventually deal with him and like-minded law-makers to assemble enough votes to pass a drug-testing bill.

Des Moines Register, March 11, 1997