THE REGISTER'S EDITORIALS
Double standard on drug tests
Read the fine print in the drug-testing bill passed by both
houses of the Legislature and you will find an interesting exception: The law would not
apply to government employees.
- Public employees are exempt from
random testing that lawmakers OK'd for private-sector workers.
This little-discussed clause suggests a number of possible
explanations: The Iowa General Assembly cares more about the rights of public employees
than the rights of private-sector workers. Or, perhaps the public-employee unions
won the exemption in some powerful behind-the-scenes horse-trading.
Actually, it was neither.
The reason: As an employer, the government is acting in the role of
"The State" and therefore must abide by the structures of the U.S. Constitution.
And if you read the not-so-fine print in that document you will find
something known as the Fourth Amendment, which says: "The right of the people to be
secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and
seizures, shall not be violated. . . ."
It goes on: ". . . and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable
cause. . . ."
In short, the framers of the Bill of Rights, who had fresh experience
with tyrannical government agents breaking down doors to search homes, insisted that no
American government would be allowed to do the same.
For purposes of the Fourth Amendment, a drug test is considered a
search. And it makes no difference whether the person searched is an employee of the
state or an ordinary citizen. The U.S. Supreme Court has, in recent decisions, ruled
that the Constitution allows drug tests of some govemment workers, but those tests have
been limited to such safety-sensitive jobs as air-traffic controllers.
Which raises an interesting question: If government workers are
protected by the Fourth Amendment - and by the new Iowa drug-testing law - from
unreasonable searches without probable cause, that means Iowa state lawmakers approved a
drug-testing law that, at least by the standards of the U.S. Supreme Court, permits drug
tests of private-sector employees that are unreasonable. That's because the new Iowa
law would allow private-sector employers to conduct random drug tests of their employees.
The legislators who voted for this bill knew it did not apply to them
in their roles as public employees, to their employees, or to the thousands of people who
work for state and local governments in Iowa. And, if Gov. Terry Branstad signs this
bill, as expected, it will be with the knowledge that it cannot apply to him or to his
staff. It is clearly a double standard - one for public employees, another for
And that, to borrow a word from the Fourth Amendment, is unreasonable.
Des Moines Register
Monday, March 16, 1998, Page 6A