Big Business Backs Drug Tests for Unemployment Benefits

May 5, 2015

Big business and other powerful special interests support a legislative proposal that would require people who seek unemployment insurance benefits to submit to drug tests.

The measure, Assembly Bill 192, would require the state to deny jobless benefits for at least a year to people who refuse to take a state-ordered drug test. If an individual tests positive for controlled substances without a prescription, the request for unemployment benefits would be denied unless the individual enrolls in a drug treatment program.

In addition to a state-ordered drug test at the time a person is applying for jobless benefits, the Republican-sponsored bill would also allow employers to submit results of earlier drug tests that were conducted for pre-employment screening, or to inform the state about an individual’s refusal to take a drug test, and use that information to approve or deny jobless benefits.

The bill is supported by construction and business groups, as well as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) , the state’s largest business organization and an influential player in state policymaking, spending and elections. WMC spent an estimated $26 million on outside electioneering activities between 2006 and 2014 to elect Republican and conservative candidates to legislative and statewide offices.

In addition to the group’s outside election spending, WMC’s 3,800-plus members include business, manufacturing, construction, agriculture, tourism, transportation, energy, banking, real estate, legal, natural resources, road builder, health care, telecommunications and insurance interests, which contributed $10.3 million between January 2011 and Oct. 20, 2014, to Assembly Republicans and Senate Republicans who control the legislature by wide margins.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon and Rep. Mike Rohrkaste of Neenah, who each received about two-thirds of their large individual and political action committee (PAC) campaign contributions from special interests represented by WMC. Olsen received nearly $167,000 between January 2011 and Oct. 20, 2014, and Rohrkaste accepted about $22,000 between January and Oct. 20, 2014, from interests represented by WMC.

Olsen’s top contributors from these special interest groups were:

William Hume, of San Francisco, a Basic American Foods executive, and his wife, Patricia, $3,000. In addition to his business interests, Hume is part of a group of wealthy supporters of school voucher programs in Wisconsin and throughout the country;

William Kennedy, of Janesville, retired owner of Rock Road Cos., $3,000;

Robert and Viveca Walz, of Portage, owners of Cascade Mountain, $2,500.

Rohrkaste’s top contributors, who each gave him $1,000, from these special interest groups were:

David Sagehorn, an Oshkosh Corp. executive, and his wife, Katherine, of Neenah;

Bryon Blankfield, an Oshkosh Corp. attorney, and his wife, Rebecca, an Ellipse Fitness director, of Neenah;

Marek May, an Oshkosh Corp. executive, and his wife, Laura, of Neenah;

David Rust, a management consultant, and his wife, Nikki, of Appleton;

Norman Fox, a Kimberly Clark Corp. director, and his wife, Karen, of Appleton.