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Congress Approves of Drug Test Measure that “Vilifies Unemployed Workers”

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Congress has voted to jettison Labor Department regulations that limit who can be drug-tested before collecting unemployment benefits from state governments.

The Senate on Tuesday passed a resolution under the Congressional Review Act, disapproving of the rule in a 51-48 party line vote. Lawmakers in the House had already advanced the measure, and it now only needs the signature of President Trump before the Obama-era framework is fully scrapped.

“It isn’t some fringe or mean-spirited notion that there’s a connection between the use of illegal drugs and the ability to obtain and maintain employment,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) claimed, before the Senate voted on the legislation.

Many common drug tests are often conducted with urine samples, however, and do not reflect a person’s mental state at the time of the test–whether they are impaired on the job, or not.

Hatch had been responding to an accusation made hours earlier by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). The Democrat had called drug-testing “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,” Wyden said.

The Labor Department finalized the rule last August, under then-Secretary Tom Perez. The department had been ordered to formulate the regulation due to a law passed by the Tea Party Congress in 2012.

As The Huffington Post pointed out, Democrats, then, agreed to give states the authority to drug-test unemployment beneficiaries. They made the concession in order to get Republicans to acquiesce to an extension of long-term jobless benefits.

The bill, however, stipulated that the law should only allow drug tests for those “in an occupation that regularly conducts [them],” in a framework outlined by the Secretary of Labor.

According to the Federal Register, opponents of the finalized rule were upset with the way that the Labor Department interpreted “occupation.”

“Drug testing in occupations where it is not required by law is not consistent across employers, across industries, across the States, or over time,” department officials said last year. “[T]hus, we are unable to reliably and consistently determine which occupations require ‘regular’ drug testing where not required by law.”

Department officials additionally noted that the 2012 law: “requires the Secretary to identify those ‘occupations,’ not employers, that regularly conduct drug testing.”

Since the inauguration of President Trump, the Senate and House have passed eight resolutions of disapproval, under the Congressional Review Act—a 1996 law, which allows for the legislative annulment of recently-finalized regulations.

Trump has signed three CRA bills into into law. The legislation had previously only been used once, since it was passed by Congress.

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Since 2010, Sam Knight's work has appeared in Truthout, Washington Monthly, Salon, Mondoweiss, Alternet, In These Times, The Reykjavik Grapevine and The Nation. In 2012, he worked as a producer for The Alyona Show on RT. He has written extensively about political movements that emerged in Iceland after the 2008 financial collapse, and is currently working on a book about the subject.

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