CA Governor Vetoes PTA-Backed Bill to Limit Random Student Drug Testing Despite Wide Bipartisan Support

Press Release September 19, 2004
Media Contact

Simeon Gant at (916) 444-3751 or Glenn Backes at (916) 202-2538

SACRAMENTO–Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have regulated the controversial practice of urine testing students for drugs before allowing them to participate in after school sports and other extracurricular activities. The bill, SB 1386 by John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) had enjoyed strong support from both Democrats and Republicans in the legislature, and had been endorsed by the California State PTA, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and State Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell.

In his veto, Schwarzenegger said, “I cannot support legislation that eliminates the ability of local school districts to make decisions based on the needs and values of their community.” Glenn Backes, director of the California Capital Office of Drug Policy Alliance, responded, “Passing the buck is the easy out for every politician, but it doesn’t protect kids.”

If passed, the measure would have been the first to regulate a rapidly spreading and controversial practice (which has been proven ineffective at preventing drug use among students), the use of public schools as venues to drug test students without their or their parent’s consent. Some schools will not allow students to participate in after-school activities if their parents object to random urine testing.

The bill would have allowed schools to establish voluntary drug testing programs that require parental and pupil consent and provide the results of the test only to the parents or guardian of the student being tested. It would also have allowed testing of any student who appeared to have a drug problem or to be intoxicated, even without parental consent.

“Why would Governor Schwarzenegger veto a popular bill that protects family rights, family privacy and after-school programs?” asked Glenn Backes, director of the California Capital Office of Drug Policy Alliance, “He must have felt intimidated by the Bush administration.”

In July, the White House mobilized in opposition to an earlier version of the bill that completely banned compulsory random student drug testing. After the ban passed the Senate by a sizable bipartisan margin, then-deputy drug czar Andrea Grubb Barthwell testified against the bill in the Assembly Education Committee. Even with the White House weighing in, the majority of Democratic committee members and Republican Todd Spitzer of Orange County voted in favor of the legislation. Spitzer then worked closely with Vasconcellos and Orange County school districts to craft the compromise that won wide bipartisan support, but was ultimately vetoed.

Although few California schools currently conduct random student drug testing programs, there has been a significant push by the drug testing industry to use public funds to bolster sagging revenue due to a decline in drug testing in the business sector. With President Bush seeking new funds from congress to push testing, opponents like the Alliance, the California State PTA and ACLU are concerned about diminished privacy rights for students and their families.

“The Vasconcellos bill would have fostered parental communication about drugs, and kept students involved in after school programs that have been proven to deter drug use and crime,” said Backes, “What the Governor did today was out of line with his previous statements about putting kids first and fighting government overreach. This is big government in your kids’ bathroom.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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