AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas lawmakers voted Friday to dismantle the state's high school steroids testing program after eight years and more than $10 million spent collecting thousands of samples that turned up only a handful of cheaters.
Once lauded as a model for the nation, the program instead turned into a target for critics who called it an ineffective waste of money. Several lawmakers defended it Friday as an effective deterrent against steroid use, but said it was no longer needed.
"We spent a lot of money. We raised awareness. We saved lives," said Rep. Dan Flynn, a Republican who helped write the original testing law in 2007.
Friday's vote stripped all money for the testing program out of the next state budget, which was sent to Gov. Greg Abbott to sign into law.
Texas started the program in response to fears that performance-enhancing drug use in professional sports was rapidly growing among teenagers in a state where the love of high school football is second to none. Texas initially created a massive program that sent testers swarming across the state to randomly collect urine samples from high school athletes in all sports.
The first 30,000 tests produced just 11 positive results of steroid use. Few saw those numbers as good news of clean athletes or even as proof the program could be a successful deterrent. Most saw it as fodder for critics that the state was wasting money.
Lawmakers have been scaling down the program ever since. By 2013, its budget had been cut from $3 million per year to $500,000. Soon, Illinois and New Jersey will be the only states with testing programs.
The move was expected. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst championed the program from its start and kept it afloat in recent years, but he lost a bid for re-election in 2014. A special committee that reviews state agencies last year recommended eliminating the program.
"While I am disappointed to see the testing program disappear, its demise was inevitable," said Don Hooton, who started the Taylor Hooton Foundation after his 17-year-old son's 2003 suicide was linked to steroid use, and was one of the key advocates in creating the Texas program.
An initial supporter, Hooton became one the program's chief critics, complaining of loopholes in sample collecting and concerns that it didn't test for enough different types of steroids, creating easy ways for students to avoid detection.
"The chances of this program catching one of our Texas high-schoolers using steroids was somewhere between slim and none," Hooton said.
State officials scrambled briefly Friday to determine if cutting the money really killed the program. The legislative session ends Monday and lawmakers have not eliminated the portion of state law passed in 2007 that required testing. But key lawmakers, from the original author to the budget architects, said it was a minor misstep and testing will not be required.
"The legislature voted to de-fund it, so I think the legislative intent is pretty clear," said Sen. Jane Nelson, the Republican chairman of the Senate budget committee.
Flynn, however, said the hiccup could allow lawmakers to bring testing back in the future.
"If we find there's a problem again, we could test again," Flynn said.