Bill to Expand Workplace Drug-Testing Options Advances; Democrats Object

Feb 1, 2017

A bill pitting labor against industry passed the Iowa Senate by a vote of 35 to 15, potentially clearing the way for employers to have a new option for drug-testing in the workplace.    

The bill adds hair samples to the list of specimens to test.

It's a matter of workplace safety

Currently the law allows tests on urine, saliva, breath, and blood.    

Senator Michael Breitbach (R-Strawberry Point), a small business owner,  said it’s a matter of workplace safety.

“Whether you're driving a truck or operating a 12-thousand ton press, I think you want to make sure that the person  you’re working with is adequately prepared and that they are not on drugs,” Breitbach said.

Democrats argued testing hair samples is invasive, unreliable and expensive.

Sen. Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo)
Credit Joyce Russell/IPR

“I think it’s another attack on working people in the state of Iowa,” said Sen. Bill Dotzler (D-Waterloo), a retired John Deere employee and union representative.  

Dotzler says the Department of Public Health and the courts have argued against the tests.

Backers say hair samples retain the presence of drugs for longer than other specimens.

“This is a better test for long-term behavior,” Breitbach said.   “Some of the tests we use now the drugs leave the system in seven days.”  

But critics say racial differences in hair types can favor one employee over another.

It's another attack on working people

Union groups are lobbying against the bill, with several industry groups supporting it. 

A Massachusetts-based drug testing company Psychemedics is registered in favor of the bill.

“This is nothing more than helping out this special interest group,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City).  

Democrats did not take up the bill when they were in control of the Senate.

“We said no to this special-interest group that would love to have the business of testing hair in  this state,” Bolkcom said.

The bill now goes to the House.