MARTINSBURG – A proposal to require West Virginians filing for unemployment to pass a drug test simply makes sense for business, several lawmakers told a gathering of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce last week.
“We’re interested in this not because we want to be punitive but because drug addiction is causing such huge problems for businesses,” explained Delegate Larry Kump, a Republican who represents the 59th District in Berkeley County. “We want a safe, reliable workforce in West Virginia and that means we have to get people off the dole and off drugs,” Kump told dozens of Panhandle business and community leaders and politicians who gathered for the May 11 luncheon at the Holiday Inn on Foxcroft Avenue in Martinsburg.
Republican Delegate Walter Duke, another lawmaker taking part in the panel, said he’s heard from a number of business owners who must schedule extra time to interview scores of applicants in hopes of finding enough workers able to pass screenings for narcotics and other drugs.
By getting workers free from drugs before they’re out interviewing for jobs, business owners will save time and money, Duke and Kump said.
“The substance abuse problem is huge in the nation, in our state, in our area,” Duke said. “It’s an enormous problem and anything that we can do we need to do.”
The idea of drug-testing for West Virginians seeking jobless benefits originated with Craig Blair, the former House of Delegates member who repeatedly was referred to by panel members as “Soon-to-be Senator Blair.”
The Berkeley County Republican, gone from the Legislature since he lost a Senate race to John Unger in late 2010, faced no opposition in last week’s primary. He’s seeking a Senate seat in the new District 15.
During his time in the Legislature, Blair’s push for random drug testing for anyone seeking unemployment benefits, food stamps or other government aid made national news. His proposal attracted coverage from CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and other major news outlets.
Blair in the past has defended his idea not as a means for protecting businesses from wasted time and effort but chiefly as a way to send a message to “respect taxpayers and how their monies are spent.”
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin this year successfully lobbied the Legislature to launch a comprehensive investigation of substance abuse in the state. The first-term Democrat asked lawmakers to use database reporting to examine opioid treatment program facilities, chronic pain management and other factors that influence drug use in West Virginia.
During the panel discussion, Duke said he’d like to see a faster move from evaluating the problem to finding a solution. “I’m not sure we need much more study,” he said. “We need action.”
Other local lawmakers taking part in the panel included House members Eric Householder and John Overington, both Republicans, and Democrat Tiffany Lawrence as well as Herb Snyder, a Democrat who serves in the state Senate.