The proposed bills that would end local regulation of ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft are drawing criticism for what’s not in the language: There’s no protection for gay, lesbian or transgender passengers who could face discrimination from drivers.
But Lyft and Uber both said Monday that their companies’ nondiscrimination policies would continue to bar drivers from refusing rides based on a passenger’s sexual orientation or gender identity, no matter what a final state law includes.
Both companies condemned an amendment approved Wednesday to House Bill 100 that defines “sex,” in the context of ride-hailing discrimination, as “the physical condition of being male or female.” Neither company, however, specifically called for lawmakers to include sexual orientation or gender identity as a protected class in the legislation.
“The adopted amendment is unnecessary as Lyft’s strong nondiscrimination policy remains in effect no matter what local or state statutes exist,” Lyft spokesman Scott Dunaway said. “Discrimination against passengers or drivers on the basis of race, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, physical or mental disability, medical condition, marital status, age, or sexual orientation is not allowed on the Lyft platform.”
Uber spokesman Travis Considine had a similar message.
“We are disappointed that this unnecessary amendment was added to legislation that should be focused on adopting a consistent statewide framework for ridesharing,” Considine said in an emailed statement. “Uber’s comprehensive national non-discrimination policy will not change.”
Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, tried to amend HB 100 Wednesday to include sexual orientation, sexual identity and sexual expression in the list of nondiscrimination qualities. That amendment was defeated on a largely party line vote, with Republicans in the majority, of 92-51.
“I think they should probably rethink their strategy of aligning with the most conservative Republicans in this country to further their economic model,” Hinojosa said Monday of Uber and Lyft. “I would think it would have some market repercussions. It should have some market repercussions.”
The nondiscrimination elements of the bill came under greater scrutiny last week after the House, on a 90-52 vote, approved the amendment from Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, defining “sex.” At the time, House members were nonplussed by what the point of the amendment might be, although it seemed to be tied somehow to the ongoing debate about the use of public restrooms by transgender people. No one spoke about it other than the author of the amendment.
Tinderholt told the House, “I just wanted to define what ‘sex’ means to keep clean clarification for drivers, owners of the businesses and customers.”
Both HB 100, which was passed 110-35 by the House on Thursday but has not yet been taken up in the Senate, and Senate Bill 361, which has passed the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, would take ride-hailing regulation statewide and pre-empt local regulations like the ones in Austin and 19 other Texas cities. Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, is the primary sponsor of HB 100, and Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, is the author of SB 361.
Paddie did not return messages for comment Monday afternoon. Nichols, in an email, said that language on sexual orientation had been included by bill drafters, but he had had it removed because he did not think it was “needed.”
“There are already statutes that deal with discrimination,” Nichols said in an email. “No reason to create a new one.”
Another pending ride-hailing bill, Senate Bill 176, by Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, did include sexual orientation as a protected class as filed. But Schwertner had that language removed when the bill came before the committee. That bill has not been put up for a vote.
Our City Our Safety Our Choice, a political action committee that worked successfully in May 2016 to defeat an Uber- and Lyft-backed city of Austin ordinance, called on Austinites on Friday to stiff-arm the big companies if they begin offering rides again here, in light of the bill’s silence on the rights of gay and transgender people.
Both companies turned off their apps May 9 after their ordinance was spurned by Austin voters.
“There should be no doubt who owns this legislative travesty,” a statement from the group said. “HB 100 is Uber’s bill, written at the behest of Uber lobbyists. The company knew exactly what was in it.”