The Des Moines Register
Thursday, March 5, 1998, Page 1A

Drug test proposal sent to Branstad


    The Iowa Legislature decided Wednesday to expand the authority of employers to test workers for drug or alcohol use.
    The House, on a 53-46 vote gave final legislative approval to a bill that would allow random testing of workers and would make other significant changes in Iowa's 11-year-old workplace drug-testing law.
    The measure, one of Gov. Terry Branstad's long-standing priorities, was sent to the governor for his signature.
    Business groups and some of Iowa's largest companies have been trying for several years to get the Legislature to rewrite a drug-testing law that they regard as weak.  Labor groups, fearing that employees' rights would be compromised, have resisted wholesale changes.
    Supporters of the bill contended Wednesday that employers need greater authority to root out drug users who could jeopardize the safety of others.
    "We're left with a simple choice.  We can ignore drug abuse in the workplace or we can provide the tools to address the situation," said Rep. Steven Sukup, a Dougherty Republican who guided the bill through House debate.
    "This (bill) will put Iowa in step with other states" that have adopted broader drug-testing laws, Sukup said.
    Rep. Jeffrey Lamberti, R-Ankeny, agreed.  He said the current law "virtually guarantees that effective drug-testing can't exist in the workplace."
    Critics of the legislation said it would upset the balance between workplace safety requirements and employees' privacy rights.  They said the legislation would subject workers to humiliating trips to the restroom to give urine samples, and it could leave them vulnerable to harassment.
    Rep. Minnette Doderer, D-Iowa City, called it a "stringent, oppressive, unnecessary and even stupid bill."
    Rep. Michael Cormack of Fort Dodge, the only House Republican who voted against the bill, said it did not respect individual rights.  "It doesn't matter if rights are being trampled on by big government or by big business," he said.
    Rep. Ed. Fallon, D-Des Moines, said lawmakers should get a taste of their own medicine and require drug-testing of the Legislature.  His proposal was rejected, however, on a procedural vote.
    "What we're talking about here is sending our workers to the restroom, with cup in hand, and subjecting them to the humiliation and embarrassment as suspects," Fallon said.  "If we're willing to do that to the workers of this state, we ought to be willing to do it to ourselves."
    Members of the House Democratic minority dominated Wednesday's long debate.  They offered a series of amendments to temper some of the drug-testing law changes pushed by Republicans.
    However, all of the amendments were rejected.  Leaders of the House Republican majority said they didn't want to risk having the bill get bogged down because of changes that might be unacceptable to the Senate.
    The drug-testing legislation cleared the Senate last month by a bare majority of 26 votes.
    Elements of this year's bill include:

    The bill approved Wednesday applies to workers in the private sector, not public employees.
    One Democrat - Dolores Mertz of Ottosen - joined 52 Republicans in voting for the measure.  Republican Cormack and 45 Democrats were opposed.

Reporter Jonathan Roos can be
reached at (515) 284-8443

The Des Moines Register
Thursday, March 5, 1998, Page 1A