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December 12, 2019 12:45 PM, EST

Sen. Roger Wicker Addresses Impaired Driving, Hair Testing in New Bill

Hair TestingTechnician preps hair for drug testing in Quest Diagnostics laboratory. (Quest Diagnostics)

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Legislation seeking to improve drug testing for employees in safety-sensitive transportation posts was easily advanced by a U.S. Senate panel on Dec. 11.

The bill’s provisions would cover truck drivers, pipeline operators and Amtrak conductors with the aim of reducing impairment along freight and commuter corridors.

The legislation also calls on the Office of Management and Budget to update lawmakers on the status of technical guidelines for hair testing that were required under the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act highway law.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the bill’s sponsor, explained, “Drug and alcohol use can impair drivers’ and transportation employees’ abilities to do their jobs safely.”

“My legislation would help protect the public from these risks by requiring the Department of Transportation to strengthen drug and alcohol testing, research and programs for drivers and those in safety-sensitive jobs,” the chairman added.

Roger Wicker

Wicker

The panel reported the legislation with bipartisan backing to the Senate. The chamber’s managers have yet to schedule its consideration.

Under the bill, within 30 days of enactment, the OMB director would be required to report to congressional transportation committees on the status of scientific and technical guidelines enacted in 2015 having to do with hair testing for drugs. OMB would need to explain in the report the reason guidelines have not been issued and an estimated date for completion.

Similarly, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services would be required to report to congressional transportation committees within 60 days of the bill’s enactment about the delay with submitting those hair testing guidelines to OMB. According to the bill, the report would need to summarize “considerations related to eliminating positive test results caused solely by the drug use of others and not caused by the drug use of the individual being tested; and estimates the date by which such guidelines will be completed.”

A proposed federal rule that would allow motor carriers to proceed with drug tests for their drivers and prospective employees through hair samples is under review at OMB.

Separately, under the bill the U.S. Department of Transportation would be required to determine whether to require Amtrak locomotive engineers and conductors to immediately report arrests stemming from drug or alcohol offenses. Also, it would direct Amtrak to report to Congress on establishing an electronic record database for drug tests, as well as implementing procedures for tracking and monitoring such testing, according to background provided by the chairman.

Additionally, the bill would require DOT to amend its auditing program, and report to Congress on the ability of pipeline companies to require drug and alcohol testing of safety-sensitive personnel that are located internationally, yet operate infrastructure within the country.

And, it would require DOT to report to Congress on approaches to reduce and detect impaired driving, such as marijuana- and opioid-impaired driving. DOT also would be required to study the viability of onsite oral fluid screening, establish guidelines for law enforcement on the use of onsite oral fluid screening and drug recognition protocols, and proceed with research.

The Government Accountability Office would be directed to review interactions between the Department of Health and Human Services and DOT in adding and removing categories of drugs from the testing panel. Specifically, the bill calls on GAO to report on an “assessment of whether the process used by the Department of Health and Human Services for adding and removing categories of drugs to and from the federal workplace drug testing requirements sufficiently addresses the needs of the transportation industry for drug and alcohol testing to prevent drug and alcohol-related incidents.”

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