The U.S. House approved 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.
The vote 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 Before the Department of Labor’s rule can be repealed, however, the Senate must vote to do the same.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. 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.
“It’s appalling that instead of helping people who have lost their jobs, the Republican leadership in Congress is choosing to drug test them,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s shameful that Congress would demonize people who use drugs, especially when there has been so much recent rhetoric about helping people who struggle with opioid and other forms of addiction. The reality is that people who receive public assistance are no more likely to use drugs than the general population. These drug testing programs have proven again and again to accomplish nothing and are a big waste of tax dollars,” said Smith.
On Tuesday, nearly 50 concerned civil rights, faith, and criminal justice organizations 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.