Government & Politics

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback vetoes new insurance requirements for ride-hailing services

The Uber app displays cars available to make a pickup.
The Uber app displays cars available to make a pickup. AP

Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed a bill Monday that would have put new regulations on Uber and other ride-hailing services in Kansas, citing the importance of innovation.

The proposed law would have required Uber drivers to undergo criminal background checks by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and to certify that they have comprehensive and collision insurance to avoid gaps in coverage — particularly a gap between the time drivers turn on their mobile apps and before they head toward a waiting rider.

Both the House and Senate passed the bill with large, bipartisan majorities despite an aggressive lobbying campaign by Uber, which threatened to leave Kansas if the requirements became law.

Brownback said the bill would over-regulate an emerging industry. Uber is currently operating in Wichita and the Kansas City metro area.

“Kansas should be known as a state that embraces economic growth and innovation,” Brownback said in a statement. “The jobs created by this new industry can bring opportunity to many Kansas families. An open and free marketplace often results in higher quality products at a more affordable price.”

Brownback met with representatives from Uber in recent days before making his decision on the bill. An Uber spokeswoman would not offer immediate comment on the veto.

Uber has threatened to pull its service out of Kansas, and from across the state line in Kansas City, if tougher rules were imposed.

Uber praised Brownback’s veto and said the company looked forward to expanding in Kansas.

“We applaud today’s bold action by Governor Brownback … a move that protects thousands of jobs while making clear that Kansas firmly embraces innovation and economic growth,” Lauren Altmin, a spokeswoman for Uber, said in an email.

Kansas is not the only state to consider stronger insurance regulations for ride-hailing companies. California adopted similar regulations after an Uber driver allegedly struck and killed a girl in San Francisco on the way to picking up a passenger.

Lawmakers say that this bill would ensure there are no gaps in coverage.

“The primary role of government is to make sure that their citizens have a safe environment,” said Sen. Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican. “And that’s all the bill did.”

The bill would have required Uber to certify that drivers have insurance and ensure that it does not hire drivers with a criminal history, he said.

Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said in an email that she loves Uber as a customer, but says she believes the company has an obligation to ensure these protections exist.

Brownback said he would be willing to return to the issue in the future.

“Though I am vetoing this bill, I am also calling upon ride-sharing companies, insurers, banks and credit unions to work with our legislature to resolve their differences,” he said.

Some lawmakers are already talking about overriding the governor’s veto. They would need a two-thirds majority in the Legislature.

“This governor’s made some poor decisions, but this one takes the cake,” said Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican who chairs the House Insurance Committee. “When you get a consensus that there’s a gap in insurance, you get a consensus from moderate Republicans, conservative Republicans and Democrats that this is a good fix, you’re on an island when you veto that.”

The bill passed the Senate 35-2 and the House 107-16. It will require 27 votes in the Senate and 84 votes in the House to override the veto.

Brownback said he applauded “the Legislature’s interest in protecting the safety of our citizens.” However, the governor said the fledgling ride-hailing industry believes the background checks it conducts on its own are stronger than the ones required by the bill.

Scwhab, however, accused Brownback of endangering Kansans.

“If someone’s a sexual predator, being an Uber driver is a great opportunity,” Schwab said. “When something happens to that 21-year-old girl, the governor gets to explain that to her father why he cared more about the corporation than the daughter.”