Texas Law To Drug Test Applicants For Unemployment Benefits Is Delayed

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A Texas law passed last year that would drug test some unemployed before they received state benefits has hit a bureaucratic hurdle and has been delayed beyond its original February 1st implementation date. The hold up revolves around pending guidelines from the federal Department of Labor which will instruct the state on which individuals and professions will be targeted and is likely to focus on “high risk occupations.” The Texas Workforce Commission will then formulate it's outline which will be subject to a 30 day public input period.

The concept of the bill itself is cynical and ineffective, and a similar bill in Florida was recently ruled unconstitutional. That bill has also been proven to be a waste of taxpayer dollars and in general these efforts amount to nothing more than a subsidy for businesses who should be paying to drug test their own potential employees.

See why a Federal judge ruled the Florida law unconstitutional and how Sen. Wendy Davis stood for those in need…

Senator Tommy Williams (R-Woodlands) the author of the law said of the bills passage, “This legislation will ensure that the people that are receiving those benefits are indeed ready and willing to go back to work.” This is simply not the case, because individuals who are fired for drug use are automatically barred from receiving unemployment benefits.



Rick Levy a labor attorney in Austin said, “The link that the bill tries to draw between drug use and unemployment is false and offensive…You only qualify for unemployment benefits if you lose your job through no fault of your own.” Remember this is the same Republican party who blames the President for unemployment, yet refuses to extend long term unemployment benefits to these same supposed victims of his policies.

During the Senate committee hearing Senator Wendy Davis debated Sen. Williams over the same point saying, “What I find interesting about it is that we would be expending resources of the workforce commission to do these tests when these are people who've been tested in their previous line of work, are going to be tested prior to going into employment in a new job, and in this brief period of time that the find themselves on unemployment, they come under a microscope for drug testing.”

After Davis gave her personal recounting of being on unemployment Williams stated, “I think it's important we make a strong statement that we're not going to tolerate casual or recreational drug abuse in our society.” One issue with the law is it makes no distinction between use and abuse of illegal drugs, while overlooking the most widely abused legal intoxicant — alcohol. The law also does not require elected officials to take drug tests before receiving the many benefits, financial or otherwise, as state employees.

In an instance of poetic justice a Florida Congressman who supported drug testing food stamp recipients resigned in shame earlier this year after he was caught buying cocaine from an undercover cop. It took him over a month to decide to resign but during that time a federal judge ruled the Florida drug testing law unconstitutional. The Judge's ruling was partly based on a study in 1998 that found, “a lower rate of drug usage among TANF applicants than among current estimates of the population of Florida as a whole,” suggesting that, “TANF funds are no more likely to be diverted to drug use or used in a manner that would expose children to drugs or affect “family stability” than funds provided to any other recipient of government benefits.” In direct opposition to Sen. Williams claims the researchers also found, “no evidence that TANF recipients who screened and tested positive for the use of illicit substances were any less likely to find work than those who screened and tested negative.”

A separate study proved that the policy was not fiscally sound, costing Florida taxpayers more to implement than money it was promised to save. According to a state data published in the New York Times only, “2.6 percent of the state's cash assistance applicants failed the drug test, or 108 of 4,086,” and, “Because the Florida law requires that applicants who pass the test be reimbursed for the cost, an average of $30, the cost to the state was $118,140. This is more than would have been paid out in benefits to the people who failed the test.”

So much for fiscal restraint, so much for personal liberty, so much for compassionate conservatism.

You can follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard. Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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