SC lawmakers discuss drug test for unemployed

Passing a drug test, requiring the unemployed to volunteer and taking away jobless benefits for seasonal employees were among the changes to unemployment laws discussed by South Carolina lawmakers Wednesday.

Some bills made it to the next step and some did not.

"I don't think someone should sit at home and smoke pot all day and collect unemployment," said Kreations Hair Salon owner Renee Rittenberry.

Every pay period her salon in Conway pays unemployment taxes, and that money goes to pay out benefits to the unemployed.

She's in favor of a bill that would require those collecting unemployment benefits to pass a drug test.

"You're getting money, so you should be able to be required to take all the provisions that they have if you were getting a job."

At the unemployment office in Conway, many agreed with Rittenberry.

"If you are getting money from the government, you shouldn't be spending it on anything but necessities," said Myrtle Beach resident Catie Watts. "Obviously drugs are not a necessity." Watts has been out of work for a year and a half.

"The system is so bad now," said Evangeline Pointer of Myrtle Beach, who is unemployed. "I think it would actually help."

But Wednesday, senators sent the drug test bill back to a Senate Subcommittee.

Lawmakers also discussed making the unemployed do 16 hours of volunteer work over six months to keep collecting benefits.

"I think giving back to the community is good," said Tony Blanton of Loris, "And you never know what contacts you might make." Blanton's been unemployed since October.

The volunteer bill was also sent back to a subcommittee.

The one bill that did advance was a proposal that struck a chord on the Grand Strand.

A bill was sent to the Senate floor that would take away benefits for workers who knowingly take seasonal jobs.

"Most of the jobs here are seasonal jobs," said Mervin Brown of Myrtle Beach. "If you work half of the year, why can't you get your benefits?"

And even though Rittenberry owns a full-time business with full-time employees, she feels a bill taking away benefits for seasonal workers is unfair.

"If they don't want them to draw unemployment," said Rittenberry, "they shouldn't have to pay it during those seasonal jobs."

Senators also postponed discussion on a bill to stop fired workers from receiving any benefits.

In December, South Carolina's unemployment rate was 9.5 percent.

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