Tenn. House adopts policy for drug-free workplace

For the first time, staff members employed by the Tennessee House of Representatives could be subject to drug testing.

The change comes less than a year after a former employee admitted to using cocaine in a legislative office and as House Speaker Cameron Sexton, RCrossville, looks to modernize the chamber’s policies to align with the best practices of private companies.

Under the new policy, any House staffer suspected of doing or being under the influence of drugs can face testing. The chamber’s employees were told of the new policy during a Friday morning training.

“No employee of the House will be allowed to work under the influence of illegal drugs or possess or partake of such during work hours,” said Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration.

Ridley said employees are also not able to work while “under the influence” of legally obtained prescribed drugs if it impairs their ability to do their job.

For an employee to be subjected to drug testing, documentation must be submitted outlining a reasonable suspicion. The documentation must cite specific instances, including issues with speech, behavior, appearance, performance and attendance, to support the claim before a drug test can be required.

Last year, former House Speaker Glen Casada’s chief of staff, Cade Cothren, admitted he had previously used cocaine and other drugs in his legislative office.

After the admission, Cothren did not face any punishment, with Casada saying he would not be terminated or demoted and that his longtime aide had sought counseling.

Casada vowed to stand by Cothren, who resigned after The Tennessean published a story that showed he had sent sexually explicit text messages. Cothren separately faced scrutiny for sending racist text messages, as first reported by NewsChannel 5.

Speaking to The Tennessean after Friday’s training, Ridley elaborated on the decision to adopt the new policy, saying while the previous operating policies and procedures prohibited drug use, the change came at Sexton’s direction.

“The speaker felt it was important to clarify,” she said.

The new drug-free policy, however, is not being adopted by the Senate, Ridley said.

“At this point, they’re not including the drug-free workplace clarification,” she said, noting the upper chamber is instead relying on the longstanding operating policies and procedures.

Beyond the drug-free policy update, Ridley told House staffers all legislative employees and interns hired in the future must undergo a background check, a common practice at other state offices.

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