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Missouri regulations for Uber and Lyft face long odds

Facing bipartisan threats of a filibuster in the Missouri Senate, legislation enacting statewide regulations on ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft is unlikely to pass this year.
Facing bipartisan threats of a filibuster in the Missouri Senate, legislation enacting statewide regulations on ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft is unlikely to pass this year. The Associated Press

The legislative push to enact statewide regulations on companies such as Uber and Lyft isn’t dead yet.

But it is on life support.

A conference committee met Wednesday morning to discuss legislation that would prohibit local governments in Missouri from regulating ride-hailing companies. The majority of the discussion Wednesday focused on whether to exempt Kansas City, which passed its own local regulations last spring.

The proposed carve-out for Kansas City caught most of the committee by surprise. Even the sponsor of the Uber bill, Rep. Kirk Mathews, a St. Louis County Republican, said he had no idea a carve-out was going to be proposed.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, a St. Louis Democrat, promised to kill the bill if the Kansas City carve-out remains.

“I’m open to the concept of statewide regulations for Uber,” Keaveny told The Star. “But now we’re playing shell games. If that carve-out stays in there, then the bill is dead.”

But if Kansas City’s carve-out is removed, Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, says he’ll kill the bill himself.

“They need to grandfather in any local regulations that currently exist,” Silvey said. “So I’d say to Uber, go back and write a better bill that respects local control.”

No bill is dead in the Missouri General Assembly until the legislature adjourns for the year on Friday. But bipartisan filibuster threats probably mean Uber’s chances in the 2016 session of getting its legislation to the governor’s desk are slim.

In April 2015, Kansas City officials and Uber announced they had come to an agreement on local regulations that would allow the company to continue operating in the city. Lyft, a rival vehicle-for-hire company, said Kansas City’s regulations were too burdensome. Lyft currently doesn’t operate in Missouri at all.

In January, both Uber and Lyft began pushing for statewide regulations that would undo Kansas City’s ordinance. That set up a battle between Kansas City leaders who say local laws are needed to ensure passenger safety and Republican legislative leaders who say burdensome regulations are stifling the growth of a company that wants to expand in Missouri.

The heart of the disagreement is over whether Uber should be mandated to perform fingerprint-based FBI criminal background checks on all its drivers. Uber has opposed that requirement, announcing this week that it is pulling out of Austin, Texas, because voters upheld a local ordinance requiring fingerprint background checks.

House leadership has vowed to attach the Uber legislation as an amendment to as many Senate bills as it can to try to force the measure across the finish line. So far, two bills have had the Uber regulations attached to them, and five more have similar amendments pending.

Silvey said the House can attach Uber to as many bills as it wants.

“Anything that comes to the Senate with that language on it is doomed,” he said. “It’s really that simple.”

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock

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