NJ advances bill that would expand random testing of high school athletes for steroids

John Ensslin, The Record 

A bill that would expand random testing of high school athletes for steroids and other performance enhancing drugs was approved by a state Assembly committee Monday.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vaineri Huttle, D-Englewood, would require coaches to incorporate an anti-steroid component into their training program for student athletes and require schools to display steroid information posters in gyms and locker rooms. It would designated the week beginning with the third Monday of September as “Steroid Awareness Week.”

It also would appropriate $45,000 from the state Department of Education to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association to do the additional testing.

The NJSIAA currently randomly tests athletes competing in championship tournaments. The bill would expand the random testing to a year-round program. The bill has the NJSIAA’s support, according to Paul Anzano, outside legislative counsel for the Association.

The measure cleared the Assembly’s Education Committee unanimously with one abstention by Assemblyman Robert Auth, R-Old Tappan. Auth said he believes schools should require all student athletes to be tested when they undergo their annual physical exam.

“I just think there should be no exceptions,” Auth said after the hearing. “Why let anyone slip through the cracks?”

Anzano, however, said it’s not practical to test every athlete. He said the test costs about $500 per student to administer. The association currently spends about $100,000 to test about 200 randomly selected athletes each year. Half that funding comes from the association and the other half from a federal grant, he said.

The additional $45,000 would enable the association to expand random testing beyond championship games.

Typically, the tests are randomly conducted on students taking part in basketball, football and wrestling, Anzano said. In the 10 years since the testing began, he said only three students have tested positive, not for steroids but for using a banned supplement.

Governor Christie has vetoed similar measures twice before and conditionally vetoed another in August, citing objections to the legislature making a supplemental appropriation outside of the normal budget cycle.

Supporters of the bill, however, say that are hopeful that the money can be included in the 2016 budget in order to address Christie’s concerns.

The bill builds upon recommendations first proposed in 2005 by a task force appointed by then-Gov. Richard Codey to study steroid use and prevention.

Codey issued a series of executive orders based upon those recommendations, urging the NJSIAA to provide annual workshops and encouraging school districts to organize programs on steroid awareness. The bill would mandate some of that activity. Codey, now a state Senator, co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill.

Anzano said association officials believe they already do many of the things required by the bill.

“We do an educational component,” he said. “We’re not saying ‘gotcha’ with them (student athletes.) We’re saying let’s do the right thing.”