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Take Federal Funds for Mass Transit, Test State Employees for Drugs
Description Congressional spending power allows Congress to tie terms to state acceptance of federal funds. Since federal mass transit dollars require states to test safety-sensitive transit employees for drugs, Massachusetts must do so, so long as it takes federal dollars, even if the requirement violates state law.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Drug Testing; Federal Funds
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Massachusetts has received billions of federal dollars for urban mass transit projects. The Federal Transit Act requires recipients of such funds to conduct random drug and alcohol tests on mass transit employees in safety-sensitive positions. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) implements such a policy, which some employees claimed violated the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights (MDR). District court rejected employees' claims, upholding the drug testing policy of the MBTA as required under federal law to obtain federal transit dollars. Employees appealed.
Decision Affirmed. "Here ... we are dealing with a congressional exercise of the spending power, not the commerce power.... The principal difference is that whereas preemptive legislation enacted under the Commerce Clause trumps state law throughout the United States ..., preemptive legislation enacted under the spending power presents states with a choice: they may either accept federal funds (and subject themselves to requirements imposed by federal law) or decline such funds." The MDR, as interpreted by a state court, is in conflict with the federal funds requirement. Since Massachusetts accepts the federal funds, the MDR must give way to the federal drug testing requirements.
Citation O'Brien v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, - F.3d - (1998 WL 827631, 1st Cir.)
or
162 F3d 40 (1st Cir., 1998)

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