”’Bette Tatum is state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, representing thousands of small and independent business owners statewide. She presented this testimony before the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs and House Committee on Judiciary on SB 3233 and HB 2003, Relating to the Illegal Use of Controlled Substances on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2004, 9 a.m., Hawaii State Capitol Auditorium.”’

Going full steam ahead this session in tackling the “ice epidemic” in our state is commendable and we wish the Legislature the best in achieving a solution.

However, the way these bills are written could prove to be very expensive to private sector employers. If the state determines that this is a priority item worth funding, then the state should just fund it, not try to push the cost onto employers. The way these bills are written, it is the economic equivalent of a hidden tax increase to pay for new social/health programs.

Therefore, the National Federation of Independent Business must testify in strong opposition and with great concern to certain portions of the bills. Business owners — employers — will be subjected to new mandates requiring the establishment of drug education programs and extended health insurance coverage to pay for treatment programs of employees terminated due to drug abuse.

Harsh penalties are proposed for employers who do not conform with the new law, including fines and prison.

Another huge problem: The new mandates would only affect private businesses, not federal, state or county employers and unionized bargaining groups. That is discrimination at its worst. Who even knows what the cost could turn out to be? Mindboggling.

These bills hold responsible those employers with 15 or more employees, but what starts out this way too often quickly becomes amended to force every employer for paying to cure the drug problem and even penalize employers for firing employees on drugs.

For all or most employers to be mandated to have drug/abuse treatment programs and continue to pay the medical premiums for terminated drug-using employees or face jail time is a real headshaker.

Hawaii businesses hope the Legislature will re-think the employer mandates found in these proposals so Hawaii

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