Texas to Drug Test Some Unemployment Applicants

With Republican Gov. Rick Perry's signature Friday, a bill that would require some people seeking unemployment assistance to undergo drug tests has become law. But critics say it is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.

Gov. Perry signs unemployment drug testing bill. (governor.state.tx.us)
Perry signed into law Senate Bill 21, which will require applicants trying to find work in occupations where drug testing is already prevalent, such as aviation and truck driving, to undergo written screening for possible drug use. If that screening indicates possible drug use, the applicant would then have to take and pass a drug test. Failure to pass the drug test will lead to a denial of unemployment benefits.

Unemployment benefits are available to people who lose their jobs for lack of work. People who lose their jobs because of drug use are already ineligible for unemployment benefits.

The new law allows people to receive unemployment benefits despite a positive drug test if they immediately seek drug treatment or if they are taking a prescription drug under a doctor's supervision.

"Texas is a state where personal responsibility is very important, and recipients of unemployment benefits have a responsibility to be prepared to work when an opportunity presents itself," Gov. Perry said in a signing statement. "Our system is designed to provide assistance to people through a difficult time in their lives, not subsidize those who would misuse the system to live a drug-abusing lifestyle. This bill protects the resources that should be reserved for those truly in need."

"Senate Bill 21 was one of the most important bills I carried this session because it will help ensure someone who loses a job, through no fault of their own, will be ready to go back to work when another opportunity opens," bill sponsor Sen. Tommy Williams said. "My goal is to send a clear message and to get people help they need."

But neither Williams nor Perry provided any evidence that laid-off workers seeking benefits are any more likely to use drugs than anyone else.

Critics of the new law said it only "adds insult to injury" for workers laid off through no fault of their own. "The bill is in search of a problem that does not exist," the critics added. "There is no trend of increased drug use among those on unemployment. Data are also lacking to suggest people in need of government assistance are more likely to be drug users."

Austin, TX
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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