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The Des Moines Register
Thursday, February 19, 1998, Page 5M

Senate approves easing
of drug-testing restrictions


    The Iowa Senate on Wednesday broke a year-old deadlock and approved legislation expanding employers' rights to compel workers to give urine samples for drug- and alcohol tests.
    "We have a tremendous drug problem here in Iowa that needs to be resolved," said Sen. Steve King, R-Kiron, a construction company owner who managed the bill in debate.
    Critics said the measure goes too far in invading the privacy of law-abiding workers and could be used by management as a tool for harassment.
    The Senate approved the bill and sent it to the House, where passage is considered likely.  Twenty-six Republicans voted to approve the bill.   Twenty-one Democrats and Republican Sen. Jack Rife of Durant, chairman of the Business and Labor Committee, voted against it.
    "We don't have a lot of compassion for people with human frailties," Rife said.
    If enacted, the bill would amend the 11-year-old state law that balances the rights of employers to test for drugs with workers' privacy rights.   Business groups say the law is so restrictive it compromises work-place safety.   They also say it hinders job growth in Iowa.
    As approved by the Senate, the bill would, for the first time, permit random testing or workers for drug and alcohol use.  Federal law permits random testing for some workers in safety-sensitive jobs.
    The bill also would lower the legal standard needed for testing a specific employee outside of a random selection program to a "reasonable suspicion" of drug or alcohol use.
    The bill also liberalizes the authority of employers to test prospective and newly hired employees.
    It prohibits the use of blood as a testing medium, a concession to those who fear genetic testing could lead to future discrimination in employment and insurance.
    A positive test or failure to surrender a sample for testing could lead to firing, the bill says.  Employers with 50 or more workers would be required to help pay for the rehabilitation of uninsured alcohol abusers.  Employers would not be liable for rehabilitation costs of workers shown to be abusing illegal drugs.
    Senate approval of the bill appears to unsnag a major item on the Republican agenda.
    The party seized control of both legislative chambers in the 1996 election.  The House approved a broader version of the drug-testing bill in 1997.   The Senate debated a drug-testing bill last year but lacked the 26 votes needed to pass it.

Thomas A. Fogarty can be reached at fogartyt@news.dmreg.com or (515) 286-2533

The Des Moines Register
Thursday, February 19, 1998, Page 5M

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