DOT Requires Localities to Conduct Drug and Alcohol Testing: The Latest Unfunded Mandate

Article excerpt

Although efforts to consider the costs of regulations to state and local governments have begun, costly mandates continue to be imposed. On February 4, the Department of Transportation handed down its 1994 final rules updating the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991. These rules mandate drug and alcohol testing of mass transit employees and drivers with commercial drivers licenses in safety-sensitive positions. Virtually all municipalities will be affected.

Which municipal employees will the rules cover?

The rules require testing of municipal public transit employees including, drivers of sanitation vehicles, local school bus drivers, subway operators, employees who are required to hold a commercial driver's license, and even mechanics and other transportation workers who are in safety sensitive positions. The chart below categorizes the employees that will be covered.

Q. Which municipal employees will be exempt from the rules?

The Department has defined three exemption categories to date:

* Emergency medical vehicle drivers and workers

* Agriculture related vehicle drivers and workers

* Military vehicle drivers and personnel

Employees of the first two categories may be subject to the rules if the state government decides to require them to hold commercial driver's licenses.

Q. Who will pay for the implementation of the rules?

Local governments must fund the drug and alcohol tests. No federal dollars will be earmarked for operating cost of these regulations.

Q. Who will do the testing?

Local governments are responsible for implementing and conducting the testing programs. They may do this using their own employees, contract services, or joining a consortium of local governments.

Q. How much will this mandate cost municipalities?

The Department has stated that the costs of implementation will be high for municipalities and the transportation industry as a whole. It is estimated that the new regulations will cost the transportation industry nearly $200 million annually. No estimates of the costs to local governments have been released to date.

Q. When do the rules go into effect? The rules go into effect January 1, 1995 for local governments with 50 or more employees in safety-sensitive positions.

Q. Will smaller governments be affected differently than larger governments?

January 1, 1996 is the effective date for local governments with less than 50 employees in safety-sensitive positions. The Department encourages smaller governments to form consortiums to implement the random drug tests, whereby local governments with less than 50 safety-sensitive employees may form a pool of workers covered by the rules and randomly draw from that pool.

Q. Will these rules preempt state and local drug and alcohol testing requirements and procedures?

Yes. The rules specifically preempt inconsistent state and local laws. Therefore, to the extent that local laws are inconsistent, local governments must comply with Federal requirements. …