By Phillip Smith
The Texas legislature last week approved a bill that would require some applicants for unemployment benefits to undergo drug testing, but another bill that would have required drug testing for some welfare applicants (Senate Bill 11) died in the House after Democrats managed to block it from coming to a vote.
Gov. Rick Perry (R) had called on the legislature to pass both bills. It is almost certain that he will sign the unemployment drug testing bill into law.
The unemployment drug testing bill, Senate Bill 21, would require some unemployment applicants to undergo a written screening for substance abuse, and if the written screening indicates likely drug use, the applicant would have to pass a drug test to receive benefits.
The bill singles out workers in occupations that already require drug testing. Those occupations are those listed by the US Department of Labor as "an occupation that regularly conducts pre-employment drug testing."
Applicants who are already enrolled in drug treatment programs or who enroll in such programs after a failing a drug test would still be eligible for benefits.
"The intent of this bill is to help lift people up and help them towards a better way," said Republican Brandon Creighton, the House author of the bill, "and at the same time making sure that the unemployment benefits fund is solvent and there to help those that need it the most."
Democrats argued that there is no reason to think people who are laid-off from their jobs are more likely to use drugs than anyone else, to no avail.
"Losing a job is a very traumatic thing," Democratic Rep. Chris Turner said during debate in the House last week.. "Aren't we just adding insult to injury in what is a very traumatic situation already?"
Eight states have passed legislation requiring drug testing for public benefits recipients. They are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah. In most of those states, drug testing is required only if state officials suspect possible drug use. Florida and Georgia laws both mandate suspicionless drug testing, but the Florida law has so far been blocked by the courts, and the Georgia law is on hold pending resolution of the Florida case in the federal courts.