Senate Week in Review
Applicants for some state benefits could have to pass a drug test to qualify under two bills passed this week by the Senate. The first bill, SB 11 by Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson, would create drug testing standards for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) applicants. All applicants would take a drug screening test, which is intended to identify likely drug abusers. Those flagged by the initial test would have to pass a drug test before they could receive benefits. Likewise, individuals with a felony drug conviction or a history of failing drug tests would also have to pass drug tests. Failing one drug test would bar a person from receiving TANF benefits for six months. A second failure results in a one year ban, and a third failed drug test means that person is out of the program for good. Children of individuals who fail drug tests would still get benefits, to be administered by another responsible adult on behalf of the children. Nelson believes her bill will keep state money from going into the pockets of drug dealers. “We have a responsibility to ensure that our policies discourage drug abuse - not enable it - and to encourage individuals with drug problems into treatment programs,” she said.
The second bill, SB 21 by Senator Tommy Williams of the Woodlands, would set a drug testing standard for receiving unemployment insurance benefits. Like SB 11, the bill would not require all UI applicants to take a drug test, just those that fail a screening test or work in certain industries that regularly drug test, like transportation jobs.
Also this week, the Senate approved a bill that would increase the number of charter schools operating in Texas and give the state more oversight authority over charters. SB 2, by Houston Senator Dan Patrick, would raise the number of charters allowed from 215 to 305 incrementally over the next six years. It would also give the state the authority to close charter schools after three years of poor performance. Patrick told his colleagues that more good charter schools means more opportunity for Texas students. “Our whole goal should be to lift everyone up in Texas and to have a great opportunity for the Texas and the American dream,” he said. “The key to that is to have the opportunity for great education.”
Elsewhere, the Senate approved the Michael Morton Act, a measure intended to prevent wrongful convictions. The bill’s namesake spent 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and was recently freed after being exonerated by DNA evidence. The prosecutor in the case is accused of withholding evidence from the defense that might have kept Morton out of jail. SB 1611, by Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, would require that both the defense and prosecution must make available all relevant evidence during the discovery phase of a trial. Ellis said the act will ensure that trials are fair to all parties. “We must weigh all relevant evidence and ensure we bring all the relevant facts to light to safeguard the innocent, convict only the guilty, and provide justice the people of Texas can have faith in,” he said.