ANNAPOLIS -- Despite continued opposition from employee unions, the state government plans to begin training representatives of most state agencies this morning on how to conduct random drug tests of employees who hold "sensitive" government jobs.
But even though the new drug testing policy officially goes into effect today, Personnel Secretary Hilda E. Ford said no actual testing will occur for at least several weeks.
Before that can begin, she said yesterday, each state agency or department must submit for her approval a detailed plan on how the drug testing will be carried out. In addition, she must await approval by a legislative oversight committee of emergency regulations needed to implement the new drug abuse prevention policy.
Sen. James C. Simpson, D-Charles, co-chairman of the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee (AELR), said that his oversight panel did not receive copies of the emergency regulations until late last week, that it has not had time to review them and that the regulations will be subject to an as yet unscheduled public hearing requested by the Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA).
"I support drug testing, and I think a majority of committee members do," Senator Simpson said. "The question is: how it is done. I think [the Personnel Department] wants something that is going to protect the people's rights, is equitable and fair, but gets the job done. There's a delicate balance there."
The program is designed to permit random drug testing of approximately 1,500 state employees who hold jobs classified by the Personnel Department as safety-related or "sensitive." They include prison guards, bus drivers, narcotics law enforcement officers and health care providers.
Under the administration's original plan, those caught using drugs would be immediately fired. In mid-August, however, Gov. William Donald Schaefer modified the program, saying that first-time offenders would be suspended without pay for 15 days and required to complete a drug treatment program. In addition, they would have to consent to additional random testing as long as they remained in a "sensitive" state job.
They would be fired for any subsequent drug offense.
To put those changes into effect, the Personnel Department had to redraft its plan and resubmit it to the AELR Committee, which has veto authority over emergency regulations.
"We are taking every precaution to make sure that both the spirit and the letter of the governor's action, when he changed the regulations, are carried out," Ms. Ford said. "Therefore, I cannot take a hurried action to implement a program without the necessary employee protections in place."
William Bolander, executive director of Council 92 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), called the decision by the AELR Committee to hold another hearing on the drug testing issue a victory.
"This is a temporary but big victory for the union," Mr. Bolander said yesterday. "A public hearing will now occur, and we will have an opportunity to bring new testimony to the AELR Committee to stop random drug testing of state employees."
Both employee unions have previously testified before the AELR Committee that random drug testing is unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy. While their opposition has succeeded in delaying the program and may have prompted the governor to modify it, it has not yet stopped it.
At 8:30 a.m. today, "technical representatives" from various state agencies and departments are to gather at the New Community College of Baltimore with Ms. Ford, laboratory representatives and officials from the attorney general's office for their first drug testing training session.
Ms. Ford said the state employees will be taught how to conduct the drug tests, how to maintain "a chain of custody" of the samples and other aspects of the drug testing "protocol."
"We will begin training [for] . . . all the things they need to know before we can get the program started," she said.