WASHINGTON — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Tuesday evening formally proposed drug testing for people who want unemployment benefits, but there’s just one problem: President Barack Obama won’t allow it.
Some background on a fight that’s been happening behind the scenes: Until 2012, federal law barred states from using a drug test as a condition of eligibility for unemployment insurance. That year, Congress changed the law, saying states could test people in occupations where on-the-job testing is common — but leaving it up to the U.S. Department of Labor to say which occupations fit the bill. Republicans and Democrats disagreed sharply over how many workers would be affected, but either way lawmakers didn’t give the department a deadline, and it has been taking its sweet time.
A draft of the proposed regulation published in October suggested states could use tests for only a narrow range of occupations involved in public safety — such as law enforcement or mass transit — where testing is explicitly required by state law.
Republicans in the House of Representatives complained bitterly in a December letter that the proposal “effectively eviscerates the intended impact of the legislation,” and Walker himself said in a separate letter that “the proposed regulations adopt such an arbitrarily narrow definition that the potential number of applicants affected is negligible.”
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