Alcohol and drug testing legislation for ALL govt employees signed into law
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — To ensure a safe and reliable working environment in government, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has signed into law legislation, requiring alcohol and drug testing for all ASG employees including elected officials and political appointees.
In an Oct. 9th letter, the governor informed Fono leaders that he signed on that day the Senate bill, which is an Act allowing the American Samoa Government to provide for appropriate and uniform alcohol and drug test procedures “for all government employees, applicants for ASG positions, elected officials, political appointees, contractors, subcontractors, independent contractors” creating a new statute.
“Testing of individuals is subject to certain criteria,” according to the bill, which states that ASG Department of Human Resources is the lead agency in handling all policies and procedures of the proposed law and DHR is also responsible for enforcing all provisions of the bill, which also provides for alcohol and drug rehabilitation services.
Lolo explained in his letter that he approved the legislation “because the American Samoa Government is committed to providing a safe workplace for its employees. Furthermore, all individuals who come into contract with our employees, services of property should be protected from harmful actions resulting in the use of drugs.”
“This law will make our workforce more reliable, safe, and productive,” the governor said. “It is also in line with our efforts in battling the severe drug epidemic that is crippling our island.”
The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga and former senator, turned Associate Judge, Paepae I. Faiai, was introduced in August 2017, in response to the serious concerns raised by the governor and the community over the spike in the number of drug cases in the territory.
Tthe bill was introduced two weeks after the governor established the American Samoa Drug Control Commission (ASDCC), which is tasked with, among other things, “reducing and eliminating the supply of illicit drugs” in American Samoa.
In accordance with the local Constitution, the bill becomes effective 60-days from the end of the Legislative session in which the bill was passed. The legislation was passed by the Fono during the last Legislative session, which officially ended Oct. 3rd.
According to the bill, “elected official” means any person who is elected to office for either the American Samoa Government or any political office in the territory. Furthermore, “political appointee”, is any person appointed to a position, with or without compensation, with either the American Samoa Government, or any semi autonomous authority.
Among public suggestions raised with Samoa News over the past couple of weeks, as the bill was debated in the Fono, is to require those in law enforcement to submit to random drug testing, including police and immigration officers, as court cases over the past months have identified police officers as defendants.
A provision of the bill calls for random testing “without reasonable suspicion” of any employee who works in a “Safety-Sensitive Position”. It states that each year, at least 25% of “Safety-Sensitive Positions” will be tested for alcohol misuse, while 50% of the said employees will be tested for drug use.
According to the bill, selection of employees for these tests will be conducted through a scientific valid random-position number selection method that is reasonable and acceptable. These unannounced tests will be conducted throughout the year.
Safety-sensitive positions subject to random drug testing include any positions identified by DHR, which entail safety-sensitive duties where failure of an employee to adequately discharge his or her position could significantly harm himself or herself, co-workers, public health, public safety or the environment.
The bill identifies safety-sensitive positions, which includes but not limited to:
• police officers, other law enforcement officers, Homeland Security Special Agents, Immigration Officers, Customs Officers;
• firemen, emergency medical technicians;
• public health officers, quarantine officers; or
• any ASG employee with an employee driver’s license, who operates a motor vehicle including water-borne vessels, for ASG as part of their job responsibilities.
The DHR director can also determine any other position to be considered as a safety-sensitive position.
Samoa News points out that in past years, there have been efforts in the Fono to pass similar legislation but all failed as bills remained in committee for action and not reported to the full floor for a vote; and therefore those measures were automatically defeated at the time, when the legislative session ended without any action taken.
Political observers tell Samoa News they believe the current “drug crisis” — as described in the past by the governor — pushed lawmakers to take “effective action” as part of the government's role in fighting the drug problem.
However, one political observer said, “only time will tell if something like this will work” and the burden now rests with ASG to ensure drug and alcohol testings are carried out.
Additionally, ASG must take seriously, previous concerns raised by the court for a rehab center in the territory to help with rehabilitating drug offenders.
The American Samoa Statistical Yearbook for 2017, which was released recently, states that “DUI dropped by over 50% when compared to 5 years ago but Narcotic cases doubled in the same period.” (See story in Oct. 18, 2018 edition of Samoa News.)