COLUMBIA — A bill that would yank unemployment benefits from someone who fails an employer’s drug test advanced Thursday in the House, despite a split vote against it.
The measure failed on a 2-2 vote in a House Judiciary panel, stunning Republicans who are unaccustomed to being on the losing end of a subcommittee vote. Republicans said the measure will go to full committee anyway — albeit without a favorable report.
The measure represents a back-door way of denying jobless benefits for failed drug tests. If the employer reports to the state’s unemployment agency that a potential hire refused to take or failed a test, benefits cease.
The denial involves only drug tests that businesses require as a condition of employment. An effort last year to require every applicant to pass a drug test before receiving benefits failed to get traction after unemployment officials said such a mandate conflicts with federal law.
Rep. Eddie Tallon said people receiving jobless benefits are supposed to be ready and able to work, and if they lose a job offer because of drugs, they shouldn’t continue to collect.
“It’s not right,” said Tallon, R-Spartanburg, the bill’s main sponsor.
The House approved the bill 70-24 last year, over Democrats’ objections. But it died in the Senate.
Democrats have argued it’s wrong to take away a benefit based on a refusal, saying reasons for doing so may include offense at the request.
“It seems like it’s piling on,” Rep. Seth Whipper, D-North Charleston, said Thursday, adding the bill should include a drug treatment component.
Rep. Elizabeth Munnerlyn, D-Bennettsville, said she voted “no” because the bill seems to be a mandate that could burden businesses.
Tallon said he intended to make the reporting an option, not a requirement, and he’ll propose an amendment to clear that up.
The measure closely follows the Department of Employment and Workforce’s own rules. A regulation that took effect last June already says benefits stop if a potential employer reports a failed drug test.
It’s unclear how many businesses have done so. The agency did not immediately provide statistics.
Tallon said businesses are concerned about privacy issues, and that’s why the bill is needed. It includes a clause specifying that employers aren’t liable.
The measure also bars businesses from using collected specimens to test for anything other than drugs — the result of last year’s debate on the House floor, when Democrats raised privacy concerns. Under that section, violators could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a $10,000 fine on the first and $50,000 on subsequent offenses.