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SENATE DRUG-TESTING BILL CREATES CONTROVERSY

SENATE DRUG-TESTING BILL CREATES CONTROVERSY

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WASHINGTON (AP) - A Senate bill setting federal drug-testing standards for private companies would provide consistency and eliminate lawsuits, say supporters, including former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, but critics contend it would erode workers' rights.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and David Boren, D-Okla., does not require businesses to test employees but gives them the right to do so - a provision supporters said would prevent unwarranted court challenges to drug-testing policies.Court challenges discourage companies from implementing drug-testing programs, which have been shown to deter workers from using alcohol and drugs on the job, Koop and other supporters said at a news conference.

``Courts all over the country are saying, 'Yes, you can,' and 'No, you can't,' ' Koop said Tuesday.

Hatch said the measure protects the privacy rights by establishing guidelines for circumstances under which businesses can test their workers.

But Rep. Don Edwards, D-Calif., chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, called the measure ``a horrible invasion of Americans' rights without probable cause.'

The bill might have support when Congress returns next week, Edwards said, ``with the drug hysteria that is being fanned by President Bush and his hard-line macho approach almost daily.'

Under the measure, drug and alcohol tests would have to be analyzed at a federally certified lab. Tests could be conducted before workers are hired, during annual physical exams and anytime for workers who had gone through a drug rehabilitation program.

Random testing could be conducted only for ``sensitive' employees, or workers whose jobs, as defined by the employer, deal with national security, health or safety, the environment or require ``a high degree of trust and confidence.'

The American Civil Liberties Union considers the guidelines vague and broad, said the group's legislative representative, Gene Guerrero.

Sixteen states have drug-testing laws, and several of those laws are more protective of workers' privacy rights than the Hatch-Boren measure, Guerrero said. North Carolina, however, does not have a drug-testing law.

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