By DAVID EGGERT
LANSING (AP) - Michigan job seekers who use illegal drugs would be denied unemployment benefits under legislation that moved forward in the state Legislature on Thursday.
The Republican-led Senate voted 28-10, almost entirely along party lines, to disqualify people from receiving jobless benefits if they fail a drug test required by a prospective employer.
Businesses would not have to notify the state when job applicants fail a drug test. But if companies do pass along the information, applicants not hired because of a failed drug test would lose their cash benefits.
Recipients also would be cut off if employers report that they refused to take a drug test. The proposed law would be on the books for one year, forcing lawmakers to renew it to keep the restrictions in place.
Because the legislation is tied to other anti-unemployment fraud bills that need to be signed quickly to comply with federal law changes, it is expected to receive a final OK from the House next week. The House approved an earlier version of the package last month.
Critics called the drug-testing bill a solution in search of a problem and accused Republicans of demonizing certain people to score political points.
"If you were really interested in helping people gain employment, you wouldn't kick them and their family off of (unemployment)," said Sen. Coleman Young II, a Detroit Democrat. "You would offer them drug treatment so they can lead a sober life."
But defenders of the legislation said employers who pay taxes to fund the unemployment trust fund should not have to give assistance to undeserving recipients.
"It's not politics to me," said Sen. Mark Jansen, a Republican from Kent County's Gaines Township. "The employer has the right to basically say, `I don't have to pay them if they test positive to drugs. I'm giving them a choice. You want this job. I want you for the job. Don't forget if you don't pass a drug test you're not going to make it and by the way you're going to lose your unemployment.' The employee is ... going to have to come to the realization that you shouldn't be doing drugs. It's illegal. I'm not sure what's wrong with that."
Jansen said he plans to revisit the issue with follow-up bills related to better telling people up front that could lose their benefits and be forced to pay improper payments back for fraudulent behavior.
"How do you do that? That's what we're going to talk about," he said.
Democrats said the legislation would not protect people who are mistakenly given unemployment benefits through no fault of their own and then are asked to repay.
Unlike others states, Michigan would not mandate that companies report drug violations to the state. Opponents have said some states have passed laws to make unemployment benefits off limits to drug users only to repeal them.
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