The Buzz

Bill creating statewide regulations for Uber and taxis clears Missouri House committee

A bill limiting the ability of cities to regulate vehicle-for-hire companies like Uber was approved by a Missouri House committee on Wednesday night.

But in a compromise aimed at winning over opponents of the idea, the bill was expanded to allow any taxi company to opt out of local regulations and instead face the same statewide standards as Uber. Any regulations that go beyond the state standards would be prohibited under the bill.

The bill also exempts drivers for these companies from paying the local earnings tax.

“The point of this is to create a statewide framework and avoid a patchwork of regulations,” said Rep. Elijah Haahr, a Springfield Republican and chair of the House Emerging Issues Committee.

Haahr noted that the bill represented a compromise struck after “24 to 36 hours of negotiations.”

A representative of Kansas City government said the city wasn’t a part of those negotiations.

Proponents say statewide standards will allow a new technology company to operate and expand throughout Missouri. Critics say the bill undercuts local government’s ability to protect its citizens.

Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, a Kansas City Democrat, said he opposed doing away with local regulations in exchange for a “looser set of statewide regulations.” Now, he said, the bill is worse because it applies to taxi companies as well.

He noted that last year Kansas City officials and Uber struck a deal that both sides praised in the media.

“We had a deal,” LaFaver said. “It works for my city. It works for the people I represent.”

Rep. Jack Bondon, a Belton Republican, echoed LaFaver’s concerns, saying the issue is about public safety. Statewide standards aren’t enough, he said, and by pre-empting local regulations, lawmakers are turning public safety over to private companies.

An amendment allowing Kansas City’s ordinance to stand failed on a voice vote, and the bill passed 10-2. LaFaver and Bondon were the only opposition.

Under the bill, vehicle-for-hire and taxi companies would have to apply only for an annual permit from the Missouri Department of Revenue to do business within the state. The companies would be mandated to perform background checks on drivers, maintain proper insurance and ensure each driver has a clean driving record.

They would no longer have to abide by regulations established by local governments.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate. Both bills still have a long way to go before becoming law.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock