Arkansas lawmakers have been considering a proposal to require people seeking unemployment be subject to an initial drug test and some receiving unemployment be subject to random drug testing. Republican Senator Jeremy Hutchinson of Little Rock proposed the measure. “By accepting unemployment benefits, they’re agreeing to waive their rights and be subject to a drug test,” said Hutchinson. Many lawmakers supporting the bill say they continually hear from business owners that say may people applying for jobs are failing drug tests. To date, there has been no real overall data for these claims. Randy Zook, president of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce has said that there isn’t much data in Arkansas regarding the unemployed and illegal drug use, just anecdotal stories from people who “gripe that people fail drug tests.”
Senator Stephanie Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) opposed the bill saying it stigmatized lower income and unemployed persons instead of focusing on the real problem of economic conditions in the state. She said it assumes that people seeking unemployment are drug users. She proposed an amendment to the bill requiring elected officials and other public employees be subject to drug testing as well. Hutchinson has said he would not oppose drug testing lawmakers.
Republican Senator Missy Irvin of Arkansas Senate District 19, which includes Cleburne County, has signaled her support for the bill. “Senate Bill 38 requires that a person undergo testing for illegal drug use in order to qualify for unemployment benefits. SB 38 is currently on the agenda of the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor. Opponents of SB 38 argue that it invades personal privacy, and that it imposes stricter standards on people who have lost their jobs. I support the bill for several reasons. Many people in many walks of life are required to take drug tests, both those who work in the private sector and those who work in government. Even our students who attend public schools and participate in athletics and activities are subjected to random drug testing. The necessity of taking a test for illegal drug use means that they are more likely to undergo treatment and rehabilitation if they have a problem with drug abuse. Finally, I will vote for the bill on a matter of principle. To put it simply, if someone receives a check from the government, that person should obey the law, and there will be consistency for individuals supported by state funds,” said Irvin.
To date, federal law does not allow states to require random drug testing for unemployment, but new regulations from the U.S. Labor Department that will allow for testing of people seeking work in professions that usually require some form of drug testing. Although the measure is expected to pass in Arkansas, it will almost certainly face a battle in court. Florida attempted a similar measure that was temporarily blocked by a federal court that said it could violate the Constitution’s 4th Amendment ban on illegal search and seizure.