Guest Column from Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke - Keeping Wisconsin’s Workforce Drug Free

May 1, 2015

A growing trend around the country is drug testing for certain welfare benefits. Here in Wisconsin, we’re keeping pace by moving forward with legislation that keeps Wisconsin’s workforce drug free while helping people find meaningful employment.

Time and time again, employers in high-demand fields like manufacturing indicate how difficult it is to find workers who can pass drug tests. As a result, quality jobs remain vacant and positions go unfilled because potential employees are unable to pass a simple drug test. It’s truly a shame that there are thousands of job openings that could be filled by people who have the necessary skills and qualifications but can’t get a job because they suffer from substance abuse. Assembly Republicans want to remove this barrier that is keeping too many people from a good job and true independence.

Here’s how the proposals would work: individuals who apply for Unemployment Insurance benefits must undergo a drug test only if there is a reasonable suspicion of unlawful drug use. Benefits would be suspended under two circumstances: if a claimant refuses to submit to a drug test, or a claimant tests positive and refuses to enter into a state-sponsored drug treatment program. Even if an individual tests positive a second time after entering the treatment program they will not be denied benefits. Every effort will be made to help get them back on track by providing the necessary support and treatment for those who need it most.

Additionally, individuals receiving benefits from programs such as FoodShare, Transform Milwaukee or Transitional Jobs would complete a questionnaire that screens for the abuse of a controlled substance. Only upon a reasonable suspicion of illegal drug use would they be subject to a drug test; they are not automatically subject to a drug test.

We all agree that social safety nets are an important function of state government. However, in order to keep these safety nets secure for everyone in the future, we want to make sure they are used for the purposes intended. If an individual refuses to accept drug treatment or routinely fails drug tests, then the taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize their addiction. Instead, we want to focus our resources on individuals who truly want a better life.

In no way is the purpose of these bills punitive, but rather it’s a helping hand to eliminate the root problem of drug addiction and to redirect towards a meaningful career. These proposals empower individuals who want to get ahead in life by giving them a lifeline to recovery and future employment.

State legislators represent taxpayers and recipients of social safety nets alike. These proposals advocate for both as we seek to use taxpayer dollars wisely by preserving resources for those who show a willingness to lead a drug-free life.