PHOENIX: For the same reason that they shouldn’t be driving, according to Julie Willoughby, state lawmakers shouldn’t be passing laws while under the influence. They make poor choices, according to her.
Thus, the Chandler-based Republican congressman, who is a first-time lawmaker, has put forth a plan to mandate that all legislators submit to random drug testing at the Senate president’s or House Speaker’s discretion. And it would be held every time parliament is in session.
Willoughby stated to Capitol Media Services, “Drugs can inhibit your reasoning ability, to make you paranoid, to see things that aren’t there, and to make you hallucinate.” “And given the nature of our work, which involves enacting new laws and defending various interests, that might be quite serious.”
Just think about drunk driving, she said. Willoughby remarked, “You see someone no longer being able to have the correct response time to things.”
Willoughby’s bill prevents legislators from being tested for blood alcohol levels before they take the floor to vote to determine whether or not they may have had too many beverages at lunch. She said that the technology at play warrants this exemption.
“You need to draw blood to test for alcohol without a breathalyzer, which would take a lot more work to obtain the sample than a urine blood screen,” Willoughby stated.
Testing for non-prescription medications in the legislator’s system is crucial, according to her.
That, however, does not take into consideration marijuana, which now virtually has the same legal status as alcohol following a public decision in 2020. Whether a person is using the drug for recreational purposes or as a self-medication for a medical issue, there are no legal restrictions on the amount they can possess at any given time.
However, Willoughby stated that she believes it ought to be a consideration in those arbitrary drug tests. She quoted a potential healthcare provider when she remarked, “Even though it’s a legal drug, it’s not legal to use all the time.” In my mind, that would essentially be the same umbrella for this medication.
However, that raises several distinct issues.
When testing for marijuana, one must check for the compounds known as metabolites, which are residues left over after the drug’s breakdown in the body. Furthermore, they may last long after the psychoactive components’ effects have worn off.
In cases involving drunk driving, the Arizona Supreme Court has decided that metabolites alone are not enough to support a conviction for drunk driving. They concluded that a prosecutor should instead prove they were impaired.
According to Willoughby, she doesn’t think that’s an issue. “There is more room for the bill to allow for drug testing,” she stated. “It does not specify what should occur in the event of a positive drug test.”
Rather, the Ethics Committee would be tasked with reviewing the findings to ascertain whether the legislator was engaging in improper behavior.
According to Willoughby, the Ethics Committee would decide if a test result for a medication for which a prescription is obtained was positive, regardless of whether the medicine may cause impairment to judgment.
The drug test results would only be made public following their examination by the Ethics Committee, whose members then voted to demand that the legislator explain considering the circumstances. At that moment, Willoughby asserted, everyone would be aware of the outcome.
And what about “probable cause,” requiring a justification for a test?
“You make a valid question,” Willoughby remarked. Indeed, she admitted, it might be “weaponized against somebody you don’t like” if the Senate president or House speaker chooses who gets tested.
However, Willoughby stated that she depends on those leaders’ judgment to exercise their authority only when they witness someone acting “abnormally,” possibly even “uninhibitedly.”
Sen. John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills who has served in the legislature since 2007, was perplexed by the subject of what kind of strange behavior might prompt a request for a drug test.
“Without using drugs, many of our legislators are capable of coming up with bizarre bills,” he stated. Additionally, Kavanagh doesn’t think drug testing is required, especially when alcohol is exempt from the law.
“In all the time I was there, I don’t recall ever seeing a lawmaker who was even suspected of using drugs,” he remarked.
“On the night the budget was done, there may have been a few isolated cases of alcohol intoxication,” Kavanagh went on. However, there isn’t any prior record of abuse of that nature.
Rusty Bowers, a former House Speaker with a legislative background dating back to 1997, concurs. He claimed that he had not observed anyone who seemed to be using drugs throughout that period.
However, he added, “I knew some were definitely under the influence of alcohol.”
Bowers also downplayed the chance that a legislator under the influence of drugs might seriously undermine the democratic and deliberative processes. Think about the fact that legislation needs 31 votes in the House to be enacted.
He joked, “I don’t think it would have some wave of influence unless they got 30 plus one all toking at once.”
Sen. Lela Alston, a Democrat who has been in the legislature since 1977, likewise questioned the necessity of this type of legislation, stating that she has never encountered an issue with her fellow Democrats.
Alston remarked, “Maybe Ms. Willoughby and her caucus are worried about her members now.” However, I don’t think that’s necessary at all.
It is unclear to what extent parliamentary leadership is willing to release her with the bill. Speaker of the House Ben Toma has not yet scheduled a committee hearing for her measure, which would give him the authority to order arbitrary drug testing.
Willoughby conceded that her bill might not be entirely ready for public consumption. However, Willoughby claimed that by pursuing it and introducing it, she is honoring her promise to the constituents who brought up the subject of parliamentarians with drug addiction with her in the first place, which inspired her to draft the legislation.