Double standard on drug tests

Read the fine print in the drug-testing bill passed by both houses of the Legislature and you will find an interesting exception: The law would not apply to government employees.
    This little-discussed clause suggests a number of possible explanations: The Iowa General Assembly cares more about the rights of public employees than the rights of private-sector workers.  Or, perhaps the public-employee unions won the exemption in some powerful behind-the-scenes horse-trading.
    Actually, it was neither.
    The reason: As an employer, the government is acting in the role of "The State" and therefore must abide by the structures of the U.S. Constitution.   And if you read the not-so-fine print in that document you will find something known as the Fourth Amendment, which says: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated. . . ."
    It goes on: ". . . and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause. . . ."
    In short, the framers of the Bill of Rights, who had fresh experience with tyrannical government agents breaking down doors to search homes, insisted that no American government would be allowed to do the same.
    For purposes of the Fourth Amendment, a drug test is considered a search.  And it makes no difference whether the person searched is an employee of the state or an ordinary citizen.  The U.S. Supreme Court has, in recent decisions, ruled that the Constitution allows drug tests of some govemment workers, but those tests have been limited to such safety-sensitive jobs as air-traffic controllers.
    Which raises an interesting question: If government workers are protected by the Fourth Amendment - and by the new Iowa drug-testing law - from unreasonable searches without probable cause, that means Iowa state lawmakers approved a drug-testing law that, at least by the standards of the U.S. Supreme Court, permits drug tests of private-sector employees that are unreasonable.  That's because the new Iowa law would allow private-sector employers to conduct random drug tests of their employees.
    The legislators who voted for this bill knew it did not apply to them in their roles as public employees, to their employees, or to the thousands of people who work for state and local governments in Iowa.  And, if Gov. Terry Branstad signs this bill, as expected, it will be with the knowledge that it cannot apply to him or to his staff.  It is clearly a double standard - one for public employees, another for private-sector workers.
    And that, to borrow a word from the Fourth Amendment, is unreasonable.

Des Moines Register
Monday, March 16, 1998, Page 6A