May 22, 2013 9:09 AM
AUSTIN - A bill that would allow the state to drug screen unemployment applicants passed the Texas House late Tuesday.
The proposal sponsored by Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, would require applicants to answer a questionnaire to see whether they are at risk of abusing drugs, and only if there is reasonable suspicion, would the Texas Workforce Commission require a drug test.
Creighton said the proposed law was carefully designed to be constitutional, adding that only first-time applicants working in occupations that require drug tests would undergo screening. Applicants who test positive could ask for a retest or keep their benefits if they enroll in a treatment program within seven days. Otherwise, the person could reapply after 30 days.
"We've had an effort across the nation of over 29 states working on related issues and measures to require a drug screen that could lead to a drug test," Creighton said. "The Texas Workforce Commission would use a nationally accepted screen to determine if a test is needed."
Opponents say the measure would hurt the families of workers who paid unemployment insurance while they were working. Civil liberties advocates also call it a warrantless search.
"We don't have any data that people who have lost jobs due to no fault of their own ... that there is a large number that are using drugs," said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Fort Worth. "Aren't we just adding insult to injury when someone is unemployed?"
The bill received unanimous, bipartisan support in the Texas Senate. After a procedural vote Wednesday, the bill will go to Republican Gov. Rick Perry for his signature.
The Texas House was also scheduled to take up another bill would require drug testing for welfare benefits. That proposal would require people enrolled in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to also answer questions to see if they are a drug abuse risk. The measure has also passed the Senate.