Skip to main content

Senate Passes Unemployment Drug-Testing Bill

Under a bill by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, applicants for unemployment benefits could be subject to drug testing if their responses to a questionnaire raise red flags.

A medical technician handles and prepares urine sample to be tested for drugs at a small medical clinic in Austin.

Texans who apply for unemployment benefits could be subject to drug testing under a measure the Senate approved unanimously on Thursday.

Senate Bill 21 by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, would require applicants for unemployment benefits to take a drug test if their responses to a screening questionnaire raise red flags that indicate drug use.

“There would have to be something they admitted in the interview that led the interviewer to believe there might be drug use,” Williams said.

Lawmakers have filed nearly a dozen bills this session that would create new standards, including drug testing, for Texans applying for unemployment benefits and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Lawmakers have filed similar measures in the past, but this year, the effort to require drug testing of those who receive state benefits is gaining traction.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved SB 11 by state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, which would require adults receiving TANF benefits to submit to a drug screening questionnaire and, if necessary, a drug test. The bill includes a protective payee provision that allows the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to designate someone else to receive benefits on a child’s behalf if their parent tests positive for drugs. The payee would also be subject to a drug test.

SB 21, under an amendment by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, would allow applicants for unemployment benefits who fail a drug test to retest and appeal the results in case of a false-positive. Another amendment, by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, would allow applicants who enroll in and attend a drug treatment program within seven days of a failing test result to continue receiving benefits.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, voted for the measure after giving a speech in which he encouraged senators to support Senate Joint Resolution 50 — his proposal to have elected officials also be subject to drug testing. 

Lucio said lawmakers should hold themselves to the same scrutiny they request from the citizens whose trust they seek.

“The problem is we’re trying to build this trust through paternalism. We are acting like we know what is best for the citizens of Texas without sometimes explaining why. We just say, 'Trust me,’” Lucio said. “We can start by submitting ourselves to the same requirements.”

Wait! We need your help.


Explore related story topics

Health care State government Texas Legislature