By Phillip Smith
A bill that would deny unemployment benefits to people who refuse to take drug tests required by employers passed the Republican-dominated Michigan Senate last week and also advanced in the House, being approved by the House Commerce Committee on a 12-4 vote.
The bill, House Bill 4952, moved in the same week Republicans also pressed ahead with another bill aimed at the state's poorest residents, one requiring food stamp recipients and welfare beneficiaries to participate in community service or other work-related activities or be cut off from assistance. The Republican-led House earlier passed bills that would require drug testing for public assistance and cutting benefits if a child is truant from school.
Democrats and civil libertarians denounced the bills as part of the GOP's "war on the poor."
"Wholesale drug testing without suspicion is simply illegal," said Shelli Weisberg, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. "If we're going down the road of drug testing for people who receive benefits, then we better start drug testing legislators."
Rep. Jon Switalski (D-Warrant) offered an amendment to do just that, but it failed.
"If the majority feels that drug testing for people on the public dole is good policy, then it's clearly in the interest of good public policy to test all of us on the public dole," he said. "But this is a bill about the elections in 2014 and nothing else."
And anti-tax activist Bill McMaster wondered how the drug testing bill would impact the state's medical marijuana patients.
"It's somewhat mysterious to me that you're trying to eliminate the will of the people on the medical marijuana front," he said. "A good number of people are employed successfully who are using medical marijuana."