South Carolina's more than 236,000 unemployed workers could have to take a drug test in order to receive jobless benefits, according to a proposal by Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley Tuesday.
But Haley's Democratic opponent, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, criticized Haley for asking the state's jobless agency — while a sitting lawmaker — to delay a 2005 audit of her parents' clothing business. A former agency commissioner said Haley called her and requested the delay.
Former Employment Security commissioner Becky Richardson said Haley called her in 2005 to request the agency delay an audit of her parents' business, Exotica International. Richardson said she received two similar requests in six years at the agency, but believed it was common to honor the requests.
"She called me personally," Richardson said. "It was a busy time at the business.
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"I didn't know that we could do that or would do that," she said, later learning "it (a delay) obviously isn't that difficult."
Another former commissioner, Billy McLeod, said he requested about two or three delays a year during his 22 years at the agency. Though requests were infrequent, McLeod said, delays were routinely granted to any business owner who asked.
"It wasn't a common thing," he said, "but it certainly happened before."
Sheheen, D-Kershaw, said Haley was using her office to delay the audit. Haley said there was no attempt to strong-arm the agency.
The audit was one aspect of a day of back and forth bickering over the state's bankrupt jobless benefits fund and who was to blame for running up $886.7 million in federal loans since December of 2008. Those debts will have to be repaid by S.C. businesses, and the loan interest could be paid by S.C. taxpayers.
Though employees fired for using drugs, alcohol or missing work can be disqualified from jobless benefits, Haley said testing the unemployed was one of several steps in ensuring the newly restructured Department of Employment and Workforce — now a cabinet agency — only pays benefits to those who have earned them.
"We will make sure, above all, that there will be nobenefits if they do not pass a drug test," Haley said.
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