Texas lawmakers reach deal to slash steroid testing but keep program for 2 more years

Texas lawmakers agree to slash steroid testing

AUSTIN, Texas — Lawmakers in Texas, home of the nation’s biggest steroid-testing program for high schoolers, said Tuesday that they have reached a deal to slash the program by more than half.

The deal has been worked out by House and Senate members negotiating the 2010-2011 budget.

The current $6 million program was designed to test up to 50,000 high school students by the end of the current school year. Texas, New Jersey and Illinois are the only states testing high school athletes for steroids and the Texas program is by far the largest.

The first 29,000 tests produced only 11 confirmed cases of steroid use, prompting some critics to say the program was a waste of time and money. Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, was among those who suggested it should be scaled down.

The tentative deal for the new program would slash funding to $2 million over the next two years; it would remain the nation’s largest.

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, one of the Senate budget negotiators, told The Associated Press that the low number of positive tests persuaded lawmakers to reduce the funding and number of tests, but they didn’t want to stop testing after only two years.

“I think it’s such an issue nationally,” Shapiro said. “To say we tried it for just two years and then trash it would not have sent a good message.”

Although a final budget vote is likely several days away, Shapiro said she considered the steroid testing funding to be firm.

The House had originally cut all funding for the program and the initial Senate budget kept it at $6 million. Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, who sponsored the testing program in the 2007 session, said the $2 million will still pay for a testing program big enough to serve as a deterrent against steroid use. He is not part of the budget negotiations.

“I think we’ve raised awareness on a public health and safety issue,” Flynn said.

Testing is conducted by the National Center for Drug Free Sport, which also tests athletes for the NCAA. Athletes from all sports are eligible, but testing has been heavily toward football.

Flynn said the smaller program should concentrate on football, baseball, track and weightlifting, sports where he said athletes are most likely to get a direct benefit from taking steroids to build strength.

Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who championed creating the testing program and has defended it, said he’s open to making changes but added that “they must not reduce the deterrent level we have established to protect the health and lives of young Texans.”

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