By: David Saleh Rauf
San Antonio Express News
March 11, 2016
AUSTIN – A state law passed in 2013 making some Texans who file for unemployment benefits subject to drug testing remains in limbo as the U.S. Department of Labor has yet to establish parameters for states to implement drug-screening laws.
The measure, which former Gov. Rick Perry signed into law with much fanfare, was supposed to begin screening some job seekers who applied for unemployment benefits starting in February 2014.
However, the start of the program has continually been pushed back, and more than two years later there’s still no concrete date for when Texas will be able to start testing applicants.
The holdup stems from the federal government, which is supposed to provide Texas and other states with guidance on which occupations to screen.
Juan Rodriguez, a Labor Department spokesman based in Dallas, said Friday that the agency is still working on guidelines but declined to provide a firm date for when they might be ready.
“The rule is scheduled to be issued this year,” Rodriguez said.
The Texas Tribune first reported this week that the 2013 law has yet to take effect.
Under the legislation, some applicants for unemployment benefits would be required to take a drug test if a screening questionnaire indicates possible drug use. Anyone testing positive would be ineligible to receive benefits for at least a month and then will have to pass another drug test.
Other states, including Mississippi and Kansas, passed similar laws after Congress in 2012 cleared the way for drug testing of unemployment applicants.
Even while states are free to move forward with their own mandates, the unemployment insurance program is subject to federal laws and regulations, leaving Texas dependent on the Labor Department to act before it can initiate the program.
Supporters, who say the measure will ensure job seekers are drug-free, have grown frustrated.
State Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Conroe Republican who was one of the authors of the bill, said the federal government’s delay in providing guidance “is another example of bureaucrats choosing which laws they want to enforce.”
“Texans deserve sensible restrictions on how tax money is used as a hand up rather than a hand out,” Creighton said in an email statement. “Maybe with a new president we will be able to get something accomplished.”
In the meantime, the Texas Workforce Commission, which will implement the law, is doing preliminary work to get ready for the start of the program.
Agency spokeswoman Lisa Givens said not all applicants for unemployment benefits will be required to take a drug test. Screening would likely be limited to jobs in health care and transportation, but she noted the agency can’t move forward without the federal government doing its part first.
“We do not yet have final regulations on this from the U.S. Department of Labor,” Givens said. “So, pending final Federal regulations from DOL, TWC will be able to move forward with implementation.”
Critics of the measure say they anticipated the program’s start would be delayed.
Rick Levy, legal director of the Texas AFL-CIO in Austin, said his group opposed the measure in 2013 on the basis that the state should have waited for the federal government to establish rules before passing a law.
“What the Legislature was trying to do with that law was not really defined,” he said. “There’s no great appetite to rush on this and, given the gridlock in D.C., it’s not surprising nothing has happened.”