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Approved bill would drug test some unemployment benefit applicants

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NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It looks like a bill that would drug test some Texans who receive unemployment will become law.

Senate Bill 21 would require first-time unemployment benefit applicants, who work in occupations that already require drug tests, to undergo screening. The measure would also require that certain applicants answer a questionnaire, meant to determine if they are at risk of abusing drugs. If their answers indicate they are a likely drug user, the Texas Workforce Commission would require a drug test before they could receive benefits.

"It's not everyone. It's those who work in a field where drug testing is a common practice by employers, and where through a profile there is some indication that there might be a concern regarding that," Texas Association of Business President and CEO Bill Hammond explained.

The state House measure, which was already approved by the state Senate, passed with a 104-42 vote.

Hammond said drug abuse keeps some Texans jobless. "We think the testing will result in them being hired more quickly. Actually, they'll be certified as ‘drug-free'. So, those who are on unemployment benefits and are certified ‘drug-free' will, in many cases, go to the top of the list to get hired."

There are a number of options for those failing the test including, taking a retest, enrolling in a treatment program, or reapplying in 30 days. Hammond believes the testing will be an incentive for applicants to stay clean. "Because they know if they abuse drugs and effectively take themselves out of the labor market this will accelerate their return to work, which is a good thing for everybody."

Opponents had argued that not only is there no suggestion that there is a correlation between individuals who lose their jobs and likely drug abuse, but also that the bill would have a negative impact on the families of people who already paid unemployment insurance when they were employed.

The bill will now go to Governor Rick Perry's desk for signature.

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