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Uber bill passes easily through House

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Uber and Lyft are one step closer to having statewide regulations in Missouri.

Rep. Kirk Mathews’ bill establishing a framework for transportation networking companies (TNCs) passed through the House Thursday 140-16 with massive bipartisan support.

“I had no idea we would get 140 votes today,” Mathews said. “I think that’s a testament to the hard work that was done on both sides of the aisle.”

Uber currently operates under municipal supervision in Columbia, Kansas City, Springfield, and Lyft began operating in Springfield Thursday after the passage of a new TNC-friendly ordinance at the end of last year. Mathews’ bill will enable ridesharing companies, like Uber and Lyft, to operate in the state and give drivers a consistency regulatory oversight that does not differ by municipality.

Rep. Kirk Mathews presents his Uber bill on the House floor Jan. 26, 2017.
Rep. Kirk Mathews

“If a TNC driver begins their day in one municipality or county and their day takes them across several municipalities, they don’t have to worry about a different law or ordinance in each political subdivision they may drive through that day,” Mathews said.

Speaker Todd Richardson, who has long been a champion of the legislation, celebrated sending the so-called “Uber bill” to the next

“We’re incredibly excited to finish an effort we started in earnest last year,” Richardson said. “It’s the kind of bill that’s exactly in line with what we’ve talked about doing as a caucus. It’s a bill that gets us out of the business of regulating companies out of business in our state and helps bring a valuable service Missourians want.”

Mathews also thanked Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, and Rep. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, for their work on the legislation. Arthur’s amendment, added during Tuesday’s perfection process, made a major change to the bill designed protect the privacy of riders and drivers from Uber’s controversial “God View” which critics and some former employees say gives Uber the ability to track users and their drivers in real time.

“Uber provides a great benefit to its riders and its drivers and we just want to make sure we’re protecting both,” Arthur said. “Whenever sensitive personal information is submitted, we want to make sure there are some privacy protections around that. With my amendment, I think we’re going a step further and making sure those safeguards are in place.”

Arthur continued by saying the legislature has taken on a pro-privacy stance and corporations, as well as governments, and need to be kept in check to ensure they do not abuse their users’ personal information.

Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis, joined a small group of bipartisan legislators who voted against the bill. She spoke on the floor of an experience with a California Uber driver who kicked her and her elderly grandmother out of ride after just a half mile of driving. She feels Mathews’ bill does not offer enough protection for those in Missouri who use ridesharing apps.

“I have no problem with TNCs, I have constituents that want them, and I look forward to having them in the state,” she said. “The problem is it’s our role to ensure that consumers are protected. I do not believe that bill goes far enough to protect consumers… Missourians deserve better from this body.”

Much of the opposition from last year’s legislative effort melted away however as Kansas City legislators, like Arthur and Rep. Jack Bondon, jumped on board. The consternation of Kansas City region lawmakers last year stemmed from what Bondon called “dishonorable” conduct on Uber’s part. After negotiating for an ordinance in Kansas City which would have given the city significant oversight over the company, Uber then rallied behind Mathews’ bill last year that did not include those same provisions. Arthur said their decision “left a bad taste in our mouths.”

“They came down to Jefferson City and started pushing a statewide framework that undermined the agreement they made with the city of Kansas City,” Bondon said.

However, this year’s version of the bill allows Kansas City to perform an audit of any TNC no more than twice per year and allows Kansas City to fine any TNC not in compliance with the bill. Bondon said it took significant effort, but all of the stakeholders involved managed to create a stronger piece of legislation.

“They made a conscious decision to, for the first time, allow municipal oversight in this new version of the bill,” he said. “I commend the bill sponsor, I commend the TNCs and I commend the municipalities for coming to this agreement so they would allow municipal oversight to live up to the agreements they had made.”

Ridesharing companies also expressed their excitement at the bill’s passage. Charity Jackson, a spokeswoman for Uber, said the company was looking forward to advocating for the bill as it goes through its next steps.

“We look forward to working with the Senate on this proposal that would allow Uber to provide more economic opportunities for drivers and greater access to safe and reliable transportation options for all Missourians,” she said in a statement.

The bill now moves into the Senate where it will be carried by Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles.