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Possible Drug Testing for Unemployment Benefits

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News
People collecting unemployment benefits, like some at this Texas Workforce Commission office, would be required to submit to drug testing under a bill in the Texas House

A proposal at the State Capitol would require drug testing for anyone who files an unemployment benefits claim, disqualifying them from benefits if they test positive.  The bill is one in a series filed by Representative Ken Legler (R-Pasadena) to combat what he calls fraud among people collecting benefits.

"And it really started from back when I had my company and they used to come in and apply for a job.  And then I'd say, 'Can you pass a drug test?' and they'd say, 'Yes, I can.'  I'd sent them to a drug test and they come back and they said, 'I knew I couldn't, but, if I turned you down, I could not continue keep getting my unemployment benefits.'" Rep. Legler told KUT News, as he traveled to his home district for the weekend.  "And that really just made me mad, because the whole purpose of unemployment benefits is to protect the people who want to work and do the job."

The bill has the support of the National Federation of Independent Business, a group that represents small business owners.

"Well, we do believe that because small business owners are paying into the unemployment insurance trust fund, and that fund is becoming increasingly expensive, that the people benefiting from the fund should be workforce-ready, when and if an opportunity arises for them to become employed," NFIB spokesperson Laura Hoke said.  She added thattaking benefits away from those who fail drug tests could save the state over $400-million and reduce the amount small businesses pay into the unemployment insurance trust fund. 

But Rick Levy, the legal advisor for the Texas AFL-CIO, says both the bill and the NFIB are leaping to the conclusion that people who've lost their jobs—for whatever reason—are on drugs, and that is totally false.

"To somehow assume that we have to spend tax dollars to insure that they are drug-free is a ludicrous prioritization of what needs to happen," said Levy.

He argues money would be better spent on making sure that some of those unemployed—particularly teachers and state employees—don't lose their jobs in the first place. 

The bill—House Bill 126—is still under consideration in the House Economic & Small Business Development Committee.  No date for committee debate on the legislation has been set.