ACLU Calls on Chicago City Council to Reject Suspicionless Drug Testing for City employees and Elected Officials

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
June 21, 2011 3:28 pm

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CHICAGO – A suspicionless drug-testing program to be considered by a Committee of the Chicago City Council this week has drawn opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. In a letter to the members of the Workforce, Development and Audit Committee last week, the ACLU noted that such drug testing invades the privacy of City workers and elected officials, would cost as much as $1.75 million each year to administer and is unnecessary to protect the safety and security of the people of the City of Chicago. The ACLU of Illinois will offer its views at a Committee hearing on Wednesday, June 22nd at Chicago City Hall.

The Committee will hear testimony on a proposal introduced in City Council by Alderman Edward Buke and Alderman Patrick O’Connor. Drug testing of government employees (and persons receiving government benefits) has been hotly debated across the nation during the past several weeks. Just last week, Florida Governor Rick Scott placed a hold on his proposal to conduct suspicionless drug testing of all Florida state employees after the ACLU affiliate in the state filed suit.

“Drug testing in the absence of individualized suspicion is stigmatizing,” according to ACLU of Illinois Legislative Director Mary Dixon, in a letter sent to Committee members last week. “It creates a presumption of guilt that can only be rebutted by a negative test result.”

The ACLU makes a strong case against suspicionless drug testing for all City employees and elected officials on both policy and legal grounds. The ACLU observes that drug testing invades privacy and bodily autonomy, and that the experience of a urinalysis can be embarrassing and unpleasant for many.

The letter also notes that the cost of the testing is excessive, especially at a time when the City is scrambling for money to provide necessary services, police protection and provide resources to public schools. At a cost of nearly $50 per drug test – a cost that could run much higher – suspicionless drug testing could cost the City as much as $1.75 million annually. Finally, the ACLU notes that the City administration already has effective methods for dealing with employees impaired by substance abuse. Employees in truly safety sensitive positions (such as CTA bus drivers) already are subject to drug testing. Other employees who appear to be under the influence of drugs while on-duty can be drug tested.

Suspicionless drug testing proposals also are unconstitutional. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago has struck down suspicionless drug testing of employees at Cook County Jail whose possible drug use raised no significant safety concerns. Additionally, the modern Illinois Constitution has a specific Privacy Clause, with protections that extend beyond the protections of the U.S. Constitution.

“The City of Chicago faces myriad challenges and few resources for addressing them,” added Dixon. “Suspicionless drug testing for 35,000 City employees does not advance solutions for these challenges – and violates the privacy rights of the these employees.”

“We urge the Committee to reject this measure so that the City Council can turn its attention to pressing priorities.”

A copy of the letter is available here.

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