CHARLESTON - West Virginians who seek job training on the taxpayer's dime must first pass a drug test, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered on Tuesday, advancing a unique twist in the ongoing debate over government-mandated drug screenings.
Making good on a pledge from this year's State of the State address, Tomblin said his executive order addresses a hurdle to hiring that's frequently raised by employers amid the fragile recovery from the recession.
"I continuously hear from business leaders located all across the state, that they have jobs available but the candidates cannot pass a pre-employment drug screening," Tomblin, a Democrat, said in a statement. "When this happens, we have wasted taxpayer dollars, hurt our businesses, and limit our economic growth."
Tomblin highlighted the order at a meeting of the Regional Economic Development Partnership in Wheeling. It applies to training programs for youths, adults and dislocated workers funded under the federal Workforce Investment Act. It also covers programs aided by national emergency grants, said Valerie Comer, deputy executive director of WorkForce West Virginia.
Comer said 2,200 people enrolled in relevant training during the most recent budget year, which ended June 30. The programs include training for such in-demand jobs as truck driving, equipment operating and in the health care field, Comer said.
Tuesday's order requires testing for 10 categories of drugs and will deny training for applicants for 90 days if they test positive. A second flunked test will bar them for one year. The order allows applicants to appeal over test results.
Workforce West Virginia must flesh out the mandate's details and set a date for when it takes effect. It will also cover the cost of each test. The order allows for an outside contractor to run the screenings for the agency.
The U.S. Department of Labor says Indiana became the first state to require drug testing of people seeking job training, under a rule it adopted last year. West Virginia appears to be the only state to follow that route. At least 30 states, including West Virginia, have considered requiring drug tests for people who seek public assistance, unemployment benefits or public employment.
During this year's regular legislative session, Tomblin successfully proposed a measure that will require random screenings for safety-sensitive jobs at coal mines. That provision follows the lead of Kentucky and Virginia, and also responded to complaints from employers. The provision was part of wide-ranging coal mine safety legislation largely spurred by 2010's Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 men. Administration officials and others have noted that autopsy results and other evidence provide no sign that drugs played any role in that Raleigh County explosion.
Union leaders and worker advocates have questioned the push for workforce-related drug screenings. West Virginia AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue called on the state's major industries to provide more information amid concerns that the drug issue has become an excuse to hire out-of-state.
"I do believe that the over-abuse of drugs in this state is not as bad as everybody makes it to be," Perdue said Tuesday. "I've talked to too many people and learned of too many cases that show that it's not as serious as they say."