Despite the ineffectiveness of similar measures already implemented in several states, the Republican-controlled Congress appears intent on drug testing people who apply for unemployment assistance.U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled floor debate and a likely Tuesday vote on a measure (H.J. Res 42) that would roll back an Obama Administration regulation limiting the ability of states to drug test people who file for unemployment insurance. Following a Senate vote, the measure would next go to Trump, who has said he will sign it.
Tuesday’s expected vote in the Senate is the latest in a string of efforts by Republican leadership to use Congressional authority granted under a federal law known as the Congressional Review Act to repeal recently finalized federal regulations. Before the Department of Labor’s rule can be repealed, however, the Senate must vote to do the same.
The White House has stated in a Statement of Administration Policy that it supports H.J. Res 42 and the U.S. House approved H.J. Res 42 on a nearly party-line vote last month. Advocates see the repeal of the Department of Labor rule as a first step by some Republicans in Congress at undoing federal restrictions on states conditioning receipt of unemployment and other forms of public assistance on a drug test.“They say it’s about helping states save money, but this would actually set up states to waste tremendous amounts of money,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Congress should be helping people get to work, not wasting taxpayer dollars to punish people who are trying to get back to work.”
Fifty concerned civil rights, faith, and criminal justice organizations have signed and sent a letter to Congress opposing this drug testing legislation.
In 2012, Congress passed a law allowing states to require drug testing as a condition of receiving unemployment insurance in cases where a person was let go from their last job because of unlawful drug use or cases where a person applying for unemployment insurance who is only available for suitable work in an occupation that regularly conducts drug testing.
The 2012 federal law also instructed the Department of Labor (DOL) to define through regulation what those occupations that regularly drug testing are, and last year, DOL published a final rule limiting those occupations primarily to those with a public safety concern (aviation and railroad workers, jobs that require carrying a firearm etc.)
This 2012 law was the result of a bipartisan compromise reached between Republicans managing the underlying legislation who wanted to completely lift this prohibition and Democrats who wanted to maintain the prohibition. Prior to 2012, federal law had been interpreted to prohibit states from imposing drug testing requirements on unemployment insurance applicants.
“For years, a small handful of Republicans in Congress have pushed this deceptive agenda and have got Republican leadership to buy in,” added Smith. “It’s shameful to see Republicans who have provided so much leadership recently on the opioid crisis now pushing drug testing schemes that provide no treatment and only serve to stigmatize and punish people who have lost their jobs.”