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Congress Passes Law to Drug-Test More Unemployment Recipients

Well, at least the GOP isn’t only trying to mess with women’s bodies on this one.

In yet another action that should scare the hell out of Americans, the Republican-controlled Senate yesterday passed H.J. Res. 42, which abolishes a Labor Department regulation from the Obama administration which severely restricted a state’s authority to require drug testing on recipients of unemployment benefits.

It was passed by a 51-48 party line vote, with no members of the Democratic caucus voting in favor. It passed the House on February 15 and is expectedly to go swiftly to Trump’s desk for his signature.

The repealed 2012 law restricted who could be compelled to take a drug test to people who had been terminated from previous employment for drug use or those at high-risk occupations where the testing requirement could be argued on safety grounds. As they so often do, Republicans argued that this was federal overreach and said the decision on who to drug test should be left to the states.

“Congress specifically intended to provide states the ability to determine which applicants for unemployment insurance should be drug-tested,” said Ted Cruz (R-TX) “The Obama Department of Labor substantially narrowed the law to circumstances where testing is legally required, not merely allowed.”

Democrats contend that such testing is a clear Fourth Amendment violation and that it would allow states to order drug tests arbitrarily and with uneven standards.

“This measure before us is simply bizarre,” said Ron Wyden (D-OR), debating the bill on the Senate floor. “If, like me, you believe that drug testing can in instances be ineffective and mean spirited, you ought to oppose this measure because it simply vilifies unemployed workers who are actually less likely to use drugs than the general population.”

“The fact is the courts have ruled that suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Wyden also made the case that drug-testing programs do not yield results commensurate with their costs and that this money might be better used helping Americans addicted to opioids or other harder drugs.

“For states that have implemented drug testing policies, there’s evidence that the costs dwarf the potential savings.  The costs of operating drug testing programs are charged to state health and human services accounts and I think we all understand those have been squeezed mightily by the effort to treat opioid addiction.

“Instead of wasting money by drug testing Americans who are looking for jobs, the states ought to be putting those very same dollars towards substance abuse treatment given the fact that opioid addiction has hit our country like a wrecking ball.”

Finally, Wyden argued that allowing this testing is especially unfair given that Americans pay for unemployment insurance out of every paycheck and said that benefit ought to be there when needed with no rights-violating strings attached.

“Just like social security, unemployment insurance is an earned benefit. It is an earned benefit that ought to be there for workers who fall on the hard times.”

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