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Alaska Legislature passes bill enabling employers to use saliva tests for drugs, alcohol

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Alaska Legislature passes bill enabling employers to use saliva tests for drugs, alcohol

May 21, 2024 | 9:30 pm ET
By James Brooks
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Alaska Legislature passes bill enabling employers to use saliva tests for drugs, alcohol
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Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, speaks at a March 19, 2024, news conference. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

More Alaska employers may use saliva for drug and alcohol testing, thanks to a new bill that passed the Alaska Legislature on the final day of the regular session.

Awaiting Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s consideration is Senate Bill 196, which adds saliva testing to the state’s “safe harbor” laws for drug and alcohol testing by employers. 

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, sponsored the bill after a request from the Alaska Power Association on behalf of local power companies.

“I think ultimately, it is a time- and money-saver for industry, and it also gets drug testing out of the way for employees in a way that’s less invasive,” he said. “I think that’s good. As long as people aren’t doing drugs or drinking when and where they shouldn’t be, they shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”

Alaska’s safe-harbor laws, which shield employers from legal claims related to drug and alcohol testing, don’t currently include saliva testing. 

Testifying in support of the bill, representatives of the Alaska Power Association wrote that saliva testing is absent from Alaska’s safe-harbor laws because they were written before saliva testing became common.

Last year, the federal government approved saliva testing for its drug-and-alcohol testing programs. The U.S. Department of Health and Social Services had been considering saliva testing since 2004 but didn’t deem the technology adequate until recently.

The bill is limited to testing of employees by their employer; other states have gone further than Alaska by allowing police departments to take saliva samples in order to test drivers for drug and alcohol intoxication. Alaska law is still limited to “chemical analysis of breath or blood.”

Saliva testing has grown more common nationally amid advances in technology and since the legalization of recreational cannabis in many states. 

THC, the principal psychoactive chemical in cannabis, isn’t detectable by a standard breathalyzer, and THC can linger in blood and urine for weeks, making those testing methods a poor judge of intoxication.