LINCOLN–Drug testing for certain individuals attempting to qualify for unemployment benefits would be required under a bill heard Monday by the Legislature’s Business and Labor Committee.
Legislative Bill 712, introduced by Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston, would revise a current law dealing with disqualifications that would prohibit individuals from receiving an unemployment check.
Currently, individuals cannot continue to receive unemployment benefits if they fail to apply for work, fail to accept a suitable job or fail to return to an available position..
LB 712 would add that an individual “is considered to have refused to accept suitable work if he or she fails a pre-employment drug screening test required by an employer.” An individual applying for unemployment benefits may also be required to take a drug test throughout the time he or she receives benefits if they were terminated from their most recent employer because of unlawful use of a controlled substance. Individuals who fail a drug test or fail to take a drug test become ineligible for benefits until they pass a new drug test.
“I believe [this bill] will not only make the unemployment system better, but encourage Nebraskans to be ready for work,” Albrecht said.
John Albin represented the Commission of Labor and supported the bill. He said the commission will initially test individuals when they apply for benefits and then test randomly throughout the benefit period. Albin said most individuals receive benefits for 12 weeks so once a month testing would most likely be the norm.
Albin cited a study by the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association from 2014. From the participants, 16 percent failed a drug test while 19 percent refused to take a test or did not show up for their test.
Abby Stenek represented the Lincoln Independent Business Association. Stenek said LIBA supports the bill because individuals who use controlled substances “may have lower productivity and miss work.”
“LB 712 will support a better worker pool,” Stenek said.
Steve Howard of Nebraska State AFL-CIO said simply because President Trump and former President Obama declared an opioid crisis does not mean this piece of legislation will fix the problem.
Howard urged that the committee wait to see how other states react and look at their legislation.
Another group opposed to the bill was The Arc of Nebraska, which was represented by Edison McDonald. The organization advocates for people with developmental disabilities and their families.
“This bill replicates legislation that has been unsuccessful in other states,” McDonald said.
McDonald focused on the strain that a false positive test could put on a family that depends on the unemployment check for support.
“Business leaders need a workforce that can pass a drug test,” Albrecht said in her closing statement.
The committee took no immediate action on the bill.