Not seeing eye-to-eye: PLP Leader Marc Bean, left, and Terry Lister, Independent, clashed in the House on Friday over Mr Lister’s championing of a drug testing policy for MPs. *File photos
Not seeing eye-to-eye: PLP Leader Marc Bean, left, and Terry Lister, Independent, clashed in the House on Friday over Mr Lister’s championing of a drug testing policy for MPs. *File photos

Bermuda is far from the first jurisdiction to consider requiring drug tests for those serving in elected office.

The House passed a report on Friday that made a recommendation for random drug testing of Bermuda’s parliamentarians. Such tests would analyze an individual’s hair follicles to measure various drugs, from marijuana to cocaine to heroin. Punishments would vary depending on the type of drug and number of times an individual tested positive. The punishments include suspensions, drug treatment and more testing.

Such an idea has been broached in several other political jurisdictions around the globe, although such initiatives rarely appear to be implemented.

In the US, the Supreme Court ruled drug testing for political candidates unconstitutional in 1997, striking down a Georgia law in the process, which required candidates take a urinalysis test within 30 days prior to qualifying for nomination or election to public office. 

The court, in that instance, found that requiring such tests did not fit within the closely guarded category of constitutionally permissible suspicionless searches.

In 2012, a Republican member of the Indiana General Assembly’s bill that would have created a pilot programme for drug testing welfare applicants was effectively scuttled when a Democratic colleague inserted an amendment that would have required drug testing for lawmakers, according to The Huffington Post. 

The representative, Jud McMillin, withdrew the bill after that amendment was made.

Earlier this month, a similar scenario played out in Australia, where Prime Minister Tony Abbott ruled out the proposal on the weekend but Government backbencher George Christensen says random drug tests should be rolled out for those on benefits and also applied to politicians.

In Canada, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who has admitted to smoking crack cocaine, proposed mandatory drug and alcohol testing for that city’s city council last autumn.

Former Premier Alex Scott yesterday said he did not think the public would respect  their parliamentarians “any more or any less if they take some drug test... We’re lowering the whole perception of the men and women we’re expecting to be in Parliament,” he said.

He added: “Why stop there? Let’s do it to reporters. Let’s do it with CEOs and bankers.”

Mr Scott said the move appeared to be “a good political gambit to try and entrap another party or individual”.

Terry Lister, an Independent MP, meanwhile has dismissed such a notion, calling it “absolute rubbish”. Such an idea, he said, has been around Bermuda for at least a decade — the idea being that MPs would show leadership by agreeing to be drug tested. 

Ultimately, the House passed the Joint Select Committee’s report on the testing policy, despite the entire PLP opposing such an approval. 

Both the House and the Senate still have to further consider the drug testing proposal before it becomes law.