State Politics

Bill would require drug test for unemployment check

MANATEE — Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, has filed a bill in the Florida Legislature that would require random drug testing for those who draw unemployment compensation benefits.

The bill would create a drug deterrence program in the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, according to the bill, S.B. 2062.

“All it says is that if you’re going to draw unemployment, you should be able to withstand a random drug test,” explained Bennett Monday. “I think it’s fair.”

The reason he considers the bill important is that, with high levels of unemployment, the state’s unemployment compensation trust fund is rapidly depleting. Trimming those from the rolls who are using the money to buy drugs would relieve some of the financial pressure on the fund, Bennett said.

“We want to make sure the people that are using it are using it for the right reasons,” said Bennett. “I guarantee people are supporting their drug habits on your unemployment.”

He acknowledged hearing criticism from some who contend that he is “picking on the junkies,” he said. But Bennett argued that the bill has drawn an overwhelmingly positive reaction in Tallahassee, where the Florida Legislature began its 60-day session March 3.

“Everybody absolutely loves it,” Bennett said.

He did correctly surmise that the American Civil Liberties Union might oppose it.

“People are hurting and people are losing their jobs, and in the midst of that situation, this would treat everyone facing a job crisis and seeking unemployment compensation as a potential drug abuser,” said Courtenay Strickland, ACLU director of public policy.

She noted that because testing would be random, it would not be based upon suspicion of actual use or abuse of drugs.

“It would be invading people’s privacy, and to add insult to injury, the cost of the testing would be taken out of peoples’ unemployment compensation,” she said. “So, not only is there no need to suspect you of doing anything wrong in order to invade your privacy this way, on top of that, you’ll have to pay for it.”

As of last week, $860 million sat in the Florida Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund, according to a spokesman for the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation. For the week ending March 7, the agency processed 46,732 claims, a 193 percent increase over the same period a year ago, he said.

Last month, the state listed a record payout of $395,487,561, a 238 percent increase over the same one-month period in 2008, he said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908.

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