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Gov. Perry Signs Drug Screening Legislation

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IRVING (CBSDFW.COM) - Laid-off workers in Texas looking to receive unemployment benefits have a new hurdle: mandatory drug testing. Governor Rick Perry signed the bill into law Friday.

Employers already hold insurance policies to help laid-off workers survive on weekly payments of $62 to $440. Those fired for cause, including failing an employer-sponsored drug test, don’t qualify.

The changes approved by the Texas House and Senate previously and signed into law by Perry require workers who lose their jobs to fill out state questionnaires.

Answers considered suspicious lead to drug tests. Anyone failing a test would lose their benefits. But Senate Bill 21 would only require first-time unemployment benefit applicants, who work in occupations that already require drug tests, to undergo screening.

“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,” said Gov. Perry. “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.”

Several job-seekers at a Texas Workforce Solutions office in Irving applauded the new law.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Sylvia Pursley, a Euless flight attendant. “It should have been implemented a long time ago. Nobody should be living off you and I that work hard and they’re just staying at home.”

SB 21 authorizes drug screenings for those receiving unemployment benefits in Texas who work in fields where drug testing is mandatory for employment. Those fields are designated by the United States Department of Labor, and include occupations that regularly conduct pre-employment drug testing.

While searching online for a position in graphic design, Kendall Morris of Arlington even called for the law to be expanded.

“If they cannot pass a drug test, then they’re going to use that money to go out and buy drugs. That’s guaranteed. I think people should be drug tested for any type of employment or unemployment.”

Critics of the law have complained that it gives the appearance of making criminals of Texans who’ve done nothing but lost their jobs. Tom Hargis, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas called the law a waste of taxpayer money.

“The bill signed into law by Governor Perry undermines an essential limit on the power of government. The courts have routinely held that government-administered drug testing qualifies as an intrusive bodily search,” said Hargis in a statement. “The testing mandated by this bill should thus require probable cause that a crime has been committed. It does not. Being unemployed is not a crime.”

Still some local experts say that drug testing has become so commonplace that legal challenges to the law would face an uphill battle.

“It’s a condition of receiving unemployment benefits,” said Allan Saxe, an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington. “If you don’t want to be tested, then don’t apply for benefits. In our society today, there’s so many conditions: background checks, drug tests, all over the place — government, non-governmental agencies — so, I think this is just part of it.”

The Texas Workforce Commission has been tasked with implementing the new law. Applicants looking to receive unemployment benefits will first complete a questionnaire that will determine whether the drug test will be required. A TWC spokesperson today said that the agency is working on the details — but, there are no specifics yet on what questions will be included and when enforcement will begin.

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