By Alana Rocha

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says he’s heard from hundreds of employers across the state over the years about how hard it is for them to find job applicants who can pass a pre-employment drug test. He said Senate Bill 21, which Gov. Rick Perry signed into law on Friday, will help solve that problem.

“The program of being able to provide some short-term benefits to help people get back on their feet is a laudatory program,” Dewhurst said, “but it’s been abused.”

The bill, by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, will subject Texans applying for unemployment benefits to a drug test if their responses to a screening questionnaire indicate possible drug use.

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On Friday, Williams and Dewhurst joined Perry at the Capitol to ceremonially sign the legislation into law.

“The message is strong,” Perry said. “If you’ve got a drug problem, there are ways that we can help you get that licked, but we’re not going to entice individuals to not be responsible.”

The law requires those who fail a drug test to enroll in a drug abuse treatment program but does not set aside any additional money to expand the availability of such services.

“This legislation will ensure that the people that are receiving those benefits are indeed ready and willing to go back to work,” Williams said.

Lawmakers filed about a dozen bills in the regular session that would have created new standards, including drug testing, for Texans applying for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

“We have a responsibility to say no. We shouldn’t be rewarding bad behavior because at the end of the day, if we reward it these folks are not going to get clean and sober,” Dewhurst said.

The Texas Workforce Commission will now develop the program, in line with federal guidelines, to test those Texans seeking unemployment who lost jobs that required drug tests as a condition of employment.

The law, named the Ken Legler Act for former state Rep. Ken Legler, R-Pasadena, who had worked to pass the bill when he served in the House in 2009 and 2011, takes effect in September. Legler died last year.