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Workers’ Drug-Testing Bill Stirs Ruckus, Gets Shelved

Times Staff Writer

A bill setting up guidelines for drug and alcohol testing of employees at their workplaces was shelved by its author Wednesday, ending a hostile Senate hearing during which the measure was denounced as unnecessary, “unconstitutional and un-American.”

Saying that it was clear that his bill faced defeat, Sen. John Seymour of Anaheim, Senate Republican caucus chairman, forestalled a vote of the Senate Industrial Relations Committee and asked instead that the volatile issue be studied at public hearings next fall.

Chairman Bill Greene (D-Los Angeles), an outspoken critic of the bill, readily agreed.

The bill, opposed by civil libertarians and organized labor, was intended to establish a statewide system for random drug and alcohol testing of employees and to overturn a San Francisco ordinance that bans random drug tests. Seymour charged that the San Francisco law “encourages drug abuse in the workplace.”

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Shouting Match

As the committee moved on to other matters, debate on the controversial testing issue spilled into a Capitol corridor as supporters and opponents shouted at each other. San Francisco Supervisor Bill Maher touched off the fracas by declaring that “a senator from Orange County . . . has no business” meddling in the affairs of San Francisco.

Seymour, who walked away as the dispute continued, said he wanted a statewide law on drug testing of employees at their place of work to head off legal challenges and because many large companies fear that they may be forced by conflicting local ordinances to have inconsistent policies for their workers.

The bill would have subjected most workers to random drug tests annually. But an employee “who holds a job in which impairment . . . would present a safety hazard” could be tested as often as three times a year. New employees could be required to take drug tests before being hired, and those who had previously tested positive could be tested at any time.

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Seymour said many California employers--and 180 of the Fortune 500 companies in the United States--already have policies requiring their employees to submit to drug tests.

Constitutional Question

Although the American Civil Liberties Union and some legal scholars contend that random drug tests violate constitutional prohibitions against unwarranted searches and invasions of privacy, there have been no court cases on the testing issue in California and existing statutes are silent on the subject.

Greene said he suspects that workplace drug tests will eventually be found to be unconstitutional. But he said employers already have the option of firing employees whose job performance indicate that they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs while at work.

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“If it isn’t affecting my work, whose damn business is it?” Greene asked.

Sen. Nicholas C. Petris (D-Oakland), another critic of the bill, held up a glass jar and challenged Seymour and his backers to produce urine samples. No one took him up on it, but Seymour then challenged Petris to provide a sample.

Asked about Seymour’s bill during a press conference, Gov. George Deukmejian said he is “in general not favorable toward . . . an indiscriminate type of testing. But I’d like to see the bill in its final form.”


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