Senate action slowed on drug-testing bill

COLUMBIA --- For jobless drug users, some unresolved questions in a state Senate committee bought extra time to collect unemployment benefits.

On Thursday, the Senate Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee considered S. 532, a bill that halts benefits to someone who fails a drug test or refuses to take one as part of a job application. Lawmakers voted to send the proposal back to the subcommittee level amid confusion about how information about an applicant's drug-use status can be used and what burden an employer carries in transmitting it to the state.

Debate also touched on how unemployment checks might have contributed to drug abuse.

"You've got to remember (that) unemployment benefits have been purchasing illegal drugs for this individual until he got caught," said Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson.

Sumter Democrat Sen. Phil Leventis said that was a faulty assumption.

"That sounds good, makes good press, (but is) not necessarily true, could be absolutely true," he said. "But you can't just say it."

In January, the state's jobless rate dropped to 10.5 percent from 10.9 percent. The national rate is 9 percent.

In recent years, policy experts and lawmakers have raised a host of reasons why South Carolinians are out of work. Explanations include the suggestions that residents won't perform physical labor of lack the right set of skills, that illegal immigrants are pushing them out of the way, and that some who are jobless lack the "soft skills" of showing up on time and conducting themselves in a professional setting.

In 2009, the state Department of Commerce found that nearly one-quarter of unemployed South Carolinians who filed for jobless benefits had lost their job because of their own misconduct.

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