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Congress Votes on Permitting States to Drug Test the Unemployed

A rule implemented in 2012 under President Obama held that states could only drug test applicants for unemployment if those applicants were looking for jobs that normally required regular drug tests. That rule is now changing however, as a new law is expected to be signed off by President Trump that requires more Americans to be subjected to drug tests before claiming unemployment benefits.

The bill was approved by the Senate this past Tuesday and was passed by the House in February. It is now on its way to Trump's desk for final approval, and the White House has confirmed that it will be signed into law. However, it has not yet been confirmed as to when this should be expected.

Republicans argued that the federal government had too much control over an issue that should have been decided by the states, while Democrats feel that the new law plays into the stereotype that those who are unemployed are more likely to use drugs. Says Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.): "If you're looking for work, you're guilty of drug use until being proven innocent."

A regulation went into effect at the end of 2016 that narrowed the definition of the 2012 law, providing a list of jobs that regularly require drug screenings. Among those jobs are commercial drivers, flight crew, and anyone who must carry a firearm while on the job, such as police officers and security guards.

However, the law was eligible for repeal under the Congressional Review Act, which is a rarely used tactic that allows Congress to overturn a newly implemented federal regulation with a simple majority vote, as opposed to the standard three-fifths vote. Before now, this tactic had only been used once before, when President George W. Bush abolished a labor safety regulation from President Clinton's era.

Several states have shown an interest in drug-testing more of their unemployment applicants. It is now possible that, under this new rule, these states may be permitted to engage in more hard-hitting drug testing policies.

In 2011, Florida enacted a law that would have required all welfare recipients to undergo drug tests. However, two federal courts deemed the law to be unconstitutional. Four years later, in 2015, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker sued the Obama administration for the right to drug-test those who benefits from such state-run programs as welfare and unemployment. The case, however, was thrown out in September of 2016, after the judge argued that Walker had no grounds to sue since he had not given the federal government a chance to reject his proposal.

Time magazine published an article in August of 2014 in which they outlined why they believed drug testing welfare recipients to be a waste of taxpayer's money. They cited the fact that only one person in Tennessee who applied for help in July of 2014 tested positive for drugs, making the success rate of drug testing welfare recipients in that state less than one percent.