AUSTIN (AP) — Texas public high school athletes will face mandatory random steroid testing under a bill given final approval Monday by the Legislature and sent to Gov. Rick Perry.
If Perry allows the bill to become law — he has not publicly expressed any opposition — the state could begin testing tens of thousands of students at the start of the coming football season. It would be the largest high school steroids testing program in the country.
“It will help secure healthy and safe lives for our young people,” said Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, the House sponsor of the measure. “Coaches, parents and fans are going to appreciate it.”
Steroid testing has been a major component of Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s campaign to protect children. Athletes who test positive, or refuse to be tested, could be suspended from play. Athletes in all sports, from football to wrestling to tennis, could be tested.
“I made steroid testing of high school athletes a priority this session because I believe it will deter young people from putting that poison in their bodies and save lives all across Texas,” Dewhurst said.
The House of Representatives voted 140-4 to send the bill to Perry. It requires the state to pay for testing, rather than force schools to raise ticket prices to cover the cost. The University Interscholastic League, the state’s governing body for public school sports, will run the program.
The Senate’s original plan was to test at least 22,000 students — about 3 percent of the 730,000 of high school athletes — for about $4 million per year.
Budget planners set aside $3 million per year, and the program now requires a “statistically significant sample” of students, said Sen. Kyle Janek, a Houston Republican who sponsored the bill.
The original Senate version also would have put specific penalties for positive tests into the law. Lawmakers instead decided to give UIL officials flexibility to set those rules.
Flynn, however, said he expects athletes to be suspended if they test positive or refuse to take a test.
The Texas High School Coaches Association, the Texas Medical Association, and groups representing public school districts and administrators supported a testing program.
The bill would require coaches to complete a training program on the dangers of using steroids, which can cause dramatic mood swings, heart disease and cancer.
A state study among 141,000 Texas students in grades 7-12 conducted by Texas A&M University found that steroid use fell from 2 percent in 2004 to 1.5 percent in 2006. Among 12th-graders, it went down from 2.4 percent to 1.8 percent.
About 130 of Texas’ 1,300 public high schools already test for steroids.
New Jersey became the first state in the country to start a statewide testing policy for high school athletes last year. Its initial testing for performance-enhancing drugs among 150 random samples taken last fall didn't produce a positive result, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association reported earlier this year.
Two weeks ago, Florida lawmakers approved a one-year pilot program to test 1 percent of high school athletes who compete in football, baseball and weightlifting.