Kansas lawmakers and Uber have reached a compromise to bring the ride-hailing service back to the state, a week after it shut down operations over legislation it regarded as too restrictive.
The legislation required all drivers for Uber and similar services to have comprehensive and collision insurance and undergo background checks conducted by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed the measure, but the Legislature overrode that veto last week, prompting Uber to announce its departure from Kansas.
The compromise plan reached Thursday afternoon would lessen both requirements. Drivers who have car liens through a bank would need comprehensive and collision insurance. Uber would have to inform drivers of the requirement; drivers would need to get the insurance. The bill also requires Uber and similar companies to ensure that drivers, whose cars are subject to a lien, have comprehensive insurance when their app is logged on.
Drivers whose cars are not subject to a lien would only be required to purchase liability insurance.
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The new plan would also not require KBI background checks. Instead, Uber and other ride-hailing companies would be barred from hiring drivers who have been convicted of a felony, sexual offense, identity theft, driving under the influence and other crimes.
If Uber failed to follow this requirement it would be subject to a civil suit, which could be brought by the Kansas Attorney General’s Office.
The Kansas House will vote on the plan, SB 101, Friday morning. It’s expected to have wide bipartisan backing.
Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, who led negotiations between Uber and other stakeholders, said the company has agreed to the changes and has indicated that it would likely return to the state after the legislation passes both chambers of the Legislature and the governor signs it into law.
Lauren Altmin, a spokeswoman for Uber, said in an e-mail that the company was “pleased to say that a compromise has been reached that, if passed, would allow for Uber to once again operate in Kansas.” She urged lawmakers to support the measure.
That’s good news to John Bernhardt, a 72-year-old Wichitan, who had just been approved to start driving for Uber the day the company announced it was pulling out of the state.
“The day they shut it down is the day they approved me to become a driver,” Bernhardt said with a laugh. He’s relieved to know the company will be returning. “It’s absolutely a godsend. I’m retired and living on Social Security. It’s pretty slim pickings. … Social Security’s not that much, so the extra income that it’ll generate, like I say, it’ll be a godsend for me.”
Lawmakers have been inundated with angry e-mails and messages on social media following Uber’s announcement that it would be leaving the state.
“We’ve heard a lot,” acknowledged Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe.
Schwab said Attorney General Derek Schmidt was instrumental in helping forge the compromise by helping craft the requirements for drivers. Schwab had been an outspoken critic of Uber in recent weeks and argued repeatedly that stricter rules were needed to ensure public safety. He said Schmidt’s backing of the compromise gave him the peace of mind he needed to support it.
“I’m not the attorney that’s going to have to enforce this and when the attorney general says, yea, this is something we can do and KBI was like this gives us the public safety we want, then I’m for it,” said Schwab.
Longbine said that the Kansas bill would likely become a model for other states. Several states have been grappling with the issue of how to regulate ride-hailing services like Uber, which allow users to hail a ride using an app on their smartphone.
Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady, R-Palco, who had been an outspoken critic of the original legislation, said that he wished lawmakers could’ve come to a compromise with the company a month ago.
“We could’ve got through this without the bad press nightmare that made us look unfriendly to business,” he said.