Texas House gives initial approval to state ride-hailing bill


Highlights

HB 100, which overturns local ride-hailing laws, was approved 110-37 with several Austin members voting no.

The law will require a second House vote for final passage, and then will go to the Senate.

The bill’s sponsor rejected attempts to require fingerprint-based background checks as in Austin’s local law.

A bill that would take ride-hailing regulation statewide — and thus smother Austin’s 2015 ordinance governing that industry here — easily passed the Texas House on Wednesday after an exhaustive five-hour debate and the rejection of more than a dozen amendments.

Those spurned changes, generally proposed by Austin and Houston Democrats and rebuffed by 100 or more representatives, included attempts to require ride-hailing companies to fingerprint their drivers and to abide by local public votes on ride-hailing regulation.

House Bill 100 passed on second reading 110-37. Austin Reps. Gina Hinojosa, Celia Israel, Dawnna Dukes, Donna Howard and Eddie Rodriguez — all of them Democrats — opposed the bill. Central Texas Republican Reps. Larry Gonzales, Paul Workman, Jason Isaac and Tony Dale supported it.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, will require another vote, perhaps occurring as early as Thursday, for final passage.

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Paddie’s bill would put businesses such as Uber, Lyft, Fasten and RideAustin under the oversight of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, and includes substantial annual fees for those businesses. An amendment submitted by Paddie, and easily approved, increased those fees to cover the estimated $120,000 annual cost of administering the law.

The bill wouldn’t require ride-hailing companies to have their drivers undergo fingerprinting for criminal background checks, as is the case with local laws in Austin, Houston and Corpus Christi. Uber and Lyft, the industry leaders, object to such a requirement — the businesses prefer to do checks based on documents such as driver’s licenses and Social Security registration — and shut down their apps in Austin because of the city law that mandates it.

“To not have these drivers do a fingerprint check is just ridiculous,” said Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, who carried an amendment to let local governments require such checks. “If we’re not going to do it at the state level, we shouldn’t prevent it at the local level.”

Davis’ suggested change was rejected 96-45.

Paddie did accept one change from Israel. Her amendment, which was adopted without objection, would require the companies to retain records of trips for at least five years, rather than just two as originally requested in the bill. Israel had pushed for a longer time — her original request was 10 years — saying that assault victims sometimes take years before coming forward to report an attack.

Paddie, after initially resisting, also went along with another amendment that would allow passengers to give cash tips. Uber and Lyft generally confine tipping to the app, in part to protect drivers from robbery.

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Awaiting in the Senate is Senate Bill 361, by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, which would also overrule local ride-hailing bills but doesn’t put the businesses under the auspices of a state agency. The Senate could go with the Nichols’ approach instead — a bill identical to Paddie’s hasn’t been approved by a Senate committee — leaving the two chambers to reconcile the differences between the two approaches.

Paddie carried a similar bill to regulate ride-hailing services statewide during the 2015 session. That bill died in the House without coming to the floor. But now, Paddie said 41 states have adopted statewide regulation of the service and he argued it’s time for Texas to join that group. None of those states, he said, require drivers to undergo fingerprinting for background checks.

Uber and Lyft, as they did in 2015, have more than three dozen lobbyists working to pass a statewide bill, according to Texas Ethics Commission records. Since that session, Austin has been the focus of the debate on ride-hailing oversight.

In late 2015, the Austin City Council replaced a local law, one largely written at the behest of Uber and Lyft, with one that the companies opposed for several reasons, including the fingerprinting requirement. The companies, through a surrogate, then circulated petitions to force a public vote on yet another ordinance that would have returned city law more or less to its initial approach on ride-hailing services.

That proposed law from Uber and Lyft was overwhelmingly rejected in a May 2016 election. Passage of HB 100, or SB 361, would overturn what the City Council did, and what Austin voters later upheld.

Even so, Paddie said, “HB 100 is not about any particular company, or any particular city.”



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