Opponents say bill to expand drug testing would be costly, unconstitutional

2013-01-21T12:33:00Z 2013-01-22T13:52:10Z Opponents say bill to expand drug testing would be costly, unconstitutionalBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA — Representatives of unions and the Montana Newspaper Association lined up Monday to oppose a bill to expand state drug-testing law to include all employees, not just those in hazardous jobs and security posts.

Union lobbyists testified that House Bill 197, by Rep. Champ Edmunds, R-Missoula, was unconstitutional and violated workers’ privacy. The Newspaper Association lobbyist said expanded drug testing for all workers would be cost prohibitive for employers.

No one spoke in support of the bill except for Edmunds.

The representative told the House Business and Labor Committee he came up with the idea to expand drug testing from a tire shop manager for a company with stores across the Northwest. The tire shop manager said the company does random drug testing everywhere but Montana.

“Why not make it so we can test any employee?” Edmunds asked.

Edmunds said also he took out an exception in current law preventing elected officials from being given drug tests.

“We ought to have to pee in a bottle, too,” he said.

Edmunds said his bill doesn’t require drug testing but allows it.

“I think the end effect of this will be a reduction in our workers’ comp rates,” Edmunds said. “It also will reduce injuries, even on desk jobs.”

But those opponents criticized the bill on several grounds.

“It’s clearly unconstitutional,” said J.C. Weingartner, an attorney for the MEA-MFT union, citing the Montana Constitution’s right to privacy.

That privacy right cannot be infringed upon without a compelling state interest, he said. That’s why airline pilots, railroad engineers, police officers and others can be given drug tests.

“In America, we’re considered innocent until we’re found guilty,” said Keith Allen, representing Local 233 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “Drug tests are intrusive. Most people prefer to urinate without someone watching them.”

He added, “This bill will allow every employer to go overboard with drug tests. What’s next? Big Brother testing our blood and our hair. Orwellian polices are not how America should work.”

Dan Flynn, representing IBEW Local 44, said utility line workers have been subject to drug tests for 18 years.

“Part of me thinks everybody should share the misery,” Flynn said, but he called it a waste of money.

Representatives of unions representing plumbers and pipefitters and carpenters and Teamsters also opposed the bill.

John Barrows, of Montana Newspaper Association, said some newspapers now perform drug tests on employees running their presses. If newspapers wanted to continue to test press operators under the bill, they also would have to conduct drug tests on all employees. That would be cost-prohibitive, he said.

The committee didn’t vote on the bill immediately.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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