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Friday, April 25, 2014

Drug test for political bets, elected officials inches forward

The House of Representatives passed yesterday afternoon two separate bills requiring drug tests for individuals running for public office as well as those who are sitting elected officials, at a time when the public demands that political candidates and public officials be held to a higher standard and higher degree of accountability. Some previous lawmakers were involved in drug-related matters.

Both bills require that the results of the drug tests be disclosed to the public.

For official candidates, the test results are to be made public by the Commonwealth Election Commission.

By a vote of 19-0, the House passed Rep. Roman C. Benavente’s (Ind-Saipan) amended House Bill 18-121, requiring screening for illegal substances among those running for office.

Rep. George Camacho (R-Saipan) offered a floor amendment to HB 18-121, to clarify that the testing for illegal substance is required “once the Commonwealth Election Commission certifies individuals as official candidates” and that the official candidates shall “bear the cost of the drug testing.” Members adopted Camacho’s floor amendment, and passed the bill as amended at 3:40pm.

House members also passed by a vote of 19-0 Rep. Christopher Leon Guerrero’s (Cov-Saipan) amended HB 18-152, requiring mandatory drug testing of elected public officials. The amended bill, co-sponsored by three other members, passed at 4:01pm.

Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) offered a floor amendment, which the members later adopted, to remove a portion of one of the provisions that would have required each elected official to bear the cost of the annual drug testing.

During discussion of the bills, some members asked about the absence of any penalty provision for those who do not comply with the drug testing.

The speaker said a penalty provision was intentionally not included because by doing so, “it may infringe on one’s constitutional rights.” He said the penalty is the public disclosure of the drug test results. Some members also said this includes disclosure that the officials or candidates didn’t undergo drug testing.

HB 18-121, HD1 and HB 18-152, HD2 are now headed for the Senate, which is also now reviewing a bill that would require drug testing for law enforcement personnel.

Benavente, in his bill, said the growing abuse of controlled substance has been associated with an increased level of crime in the CNMI.

“Over the years, there have been several incidents involving elected officials and law enforcement officers or employees of regulatory agencies who have either been convicted or charged with committing illegal drug use or trafficking related offenses in the CNMI,” the bill says.

It adds that the abuse of controlled substances by individuals charged with and who hold the responsibility of safeguarding the safety of the public “has shaken the confidence of the people in law enforcement and elected officials.”

Leon Guerrero, in his bill, said the government has adopted alcohol- and drug-free workplace policies but these policies do not apply to elected officials.

“Elected officials should be held to a higher degree of accountability. The results of drug tests of public officials should be made public,” the bill says.

Under the bill, each elected official shall annually submit to a test for controlled substances. Elected officials include the governor, lieutenant governor, members of the Senate and House of Representatives, mayors, municipal council members, and elected members of the Board of Education.

The speaker said even the attorney general, who will be elected in November, will be included, along with judges and justices who are up for retention because their names would also be on the ballot.

In the past year, the government has not conducted any random drug testing because of lack of funds. But Gov. Eloy S. Inos said his administration will reprogram funds to ensure government random drug tests will be administered this year, following reports that not even law enforcement personnel got randomly tested in at least a year as required by law because of lack of funds.

Office of Personnel Management director Isidro Seman earlier said OPM needs “at least $14,000 to $15,000 a year” to administer random drug testing annually.

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