No joke: Sen. Trip Pittman pushes drug testing

(AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)
(AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – With a first name like “Trip,” an Alabama senator was bound to prompt jokes by pushing a bill mandating drug testing for legislators.

But Sen. Trip Pittman says he’s serious.

“It’s a fairness issue,” the Republican from Daphne said.

Pittman said he proposed legislative drug testing after some lawmakers criticized a bill he introduced to require welfare applicants with a misdemeanor or felony drug conviction in the last five years to take a drug test. Anyone who failed three times would be denied benefits, but their children could receive them.

“We are willing to lead by example,” the senator said.

His welfare drug testing bill has been approved by a Senate committee and is waiting for a vote in the Senate. His legislative drug testing bill is awaiting a vote in committee.

Pittman acknowledges the bill needs some work before getting committee approval. In one place, the bill provides for testing of legislators when there is a reasonable suspicion that a person might be using illegal drugs. In another place, the bill provides for drug testing of all legislators at intervals the Legislature determines appropriate. Any legislator with a failing test would be referred to the House or Senate ethics committee, but there is no removal from office.

Pittman’s bill is a proposed constitutional amendment that would have to pass the House and Senate and be approved by voters in a statewide referendum before taking effect. That referendum would coincide with this year’s legislative elections.

Other senators say they will support the bill if it comes to a vote, but it is not on the priority bill lists of either the Senate or House Republican caucuses.

“I don’t have a problem with it,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said.

Marsh said the manufacturing business he used to own in Anniston had to perform drug testing to get certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. “As a business owner, I required it for my employees and myself for years,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton of Greensboro is among the senators who criticized Pittman’s drug testing for welfare applicants. Singleton said if the state is going to test some welfare applicants, then it ought to test anyone who gets state assistance, including business owners who get tax breaks or financial incentives for locating factories in the state.

Singleton said he has no fear of a drug test. “I’m certain I’ll pass it,” he said. But he said he doesn’t see any desire by the Legislature to do drug testing on members.

“It will never come to the ballot,” he said.

In the House, Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said Pittman hasn’t discussed the bill with him.

Pittman’s idea for drug testing is not new. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Kansas Legislature passed a law in 2013 for testing of its members and other key state officials, but implementation of the law has not been finalized.

In 2003, Louisiana repealed a law for random drug testing of elected officials, and in 1997, a Georgia law about drug tests for candidates was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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