The Senate on Tuesday passed legislation that will repeal an Obama administration rule that limits the ability of states to deny unemployment benefits to drug users. That means with random drug testing, you could lose your EU because of marijuana use.
It was a party-line vote with 51 Republicans voted for it and 48 Democrats voting against.
The measure overturns a Labor Department rule limiting the industries for which states could mandate drug testing in order to receive unemployment benefits.
The House last month approved the resolution. It is headed to President Donald Trump’s desk, who has already indicated he will sign it.
During a debate before the vote, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said the plan “vilifies unemployed workers who are actually less likely to use drugs than the general population.”
Democrats say any changes to the rule will create too many obstacles for people to get unemployment benefits who are genuinely looking for work and who have already paid into the unemployment benefits program. They argued that lawmakers should focus on helping these people get treatment.
But Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate committee that oversees unemployment, disagreed. “The Senate today has done the right thing by rolling back this Obama-era rule that told states how they had to implement unemployment insurance drug testing,”
On Tuesday, 50 civil rights, labor, faith, and criminal justice organizations sent a letter to Congress opposing the proposal.
“They say it’s about helping states save money, but this would actually set up states to waste tremendous amounts of money,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Congress should be helping people get to work, not wasting taxpayer dollars to punish people who are trying to get back to work.”
Here is the history of the legislation, according to the DPA:
Congress passed a law in 2012 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 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.
“For years, a small handful of Republicans in Congress have pushed this deceptive agenda and have got Republican leadership to buy in,” added Smith. “It’s shameful to see Republicans who have provided so much leadership recently on the opioid crisis now pushing drug testing schemes that provide no treatment and only serve to stigmatize and punish people who have lost their jobs.”