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Texas lawmakers approve drug tests for unemployment applicants

Democrats stalled a vote on a second, similar bill covering welfare seekers

Texas lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill that would require drug testing for some of those seeking unemployment benefits, even as state Democrats stymied a similar measure covering welfare applicants.

Under the successful bill, first-time unemployment applicants who are looking for jobs in fields that require drug testing (e.g. trucking, aviation or hazardous material industries) must undergo a preliminary written screening test. If the test shows that an applicant is likely to be a drug user, that person must then pass a drug test in order to receive their unemployment benefits.

Applicants who fail the drug test can either enroll in a drug treatment program, which would make them eligible for unemployment, or reapply for benefits after 30 days.

The bill’s sponsor, House Republican Brandon Creighton, argues that the measure will help to ensure that unemployment benefits are available “to help those that need [them] the most,” while encouraging more drug users to seek treatment.

But Democratic opponents, including Rep. Chris Turner, say that there is no evidence that those applying for unemployment benefits are any more likely to be drug users. "Losing a job is a very traumatic thing," Turner said on the House floor, according to Thomson Reuters. "Aren't we just adding insult to injury in what is a very traumatic situation already?"

Democrats did manage to scuttle a similar bill intended for welfare applicants by stalling the vote for more than two hours, until after a midnight deadline had passed. The current legislative session ends on Monday.

The failed proposal would have required applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program would have undergone a similar drug screening, followed by a mandatory drug test if the screening showed “good cause to suspect” drug use. One positive drug test would lead to a loss of benefits for six months, a second positive test would result in a one-year loss and a third positive test would lead to a lifetime ban.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that eight states—Kansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah—have passed laws that deal with drug screening and testing for those seeking public assistance, although some of those measures have met with legal challenges.

For more InsideCounsel coverage of drugs—legal and otherwise—see:

FDA appeals “morning after” pill ruling

No wider recall for glass-tainted generic Lipitor

California Supreme Court upholds local medical marijuana bans

Cheat Sheet: The in-house lawyer’s guide to marijuana legalization

Alanna Byrne

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