Government & Politics

Kansas Legislature approves compromise that will return Uber to state

The Kansas Senate on Tuesday passed the Uber compromise 37-0, sending it to the governor.
The Kansas Senate on Tuesday passed the Uber compromise 37-0, sending it to the governor. kmyers@kcstar.com

Uber could return to Kansas as early as this week.

The Kansas House and Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly supported a proposal that will impose fewer regulations on ride-hailing services than what lawmakers previously approved.

The House voted 119-3 to approve SB 101, a compromise bill supported by Uber, on Tuesday morning. The Senate passed it a few hours later with a 37-0 vote. It heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Uber pulled out of the state earlier this month after the Legislature overrode Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a bill that would have required drivers for ride-hailing services to obtain comprehensive and collision insurance and to undergo background checks conducted by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Lawmakers have been besieged with angry e-mails and social media messages from constituents since Uber announced its departure earlier this month.

“It is pretty nice to have it behind us,” said Sen. Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, who led negotiations on crafting a compromise. “It heads to the governor’s office, and I have every indication that he’ll sign it.

“I think the objective the entire time was to develop legislation that allows the transportation network companies to operate in Kansas but would have the security and safety in it that we need to be comfortable for the residents that use it.”

The new bill would require ride-hailing services to inform drivers that if they have liens on their cars, they need to buy comprehensive and collision insurance under Kansas law. The burden would be on drivers to buy the insurance, and failure to do so could result in a driver losing his or her vehicle.

“It’s up to the driver to take personal responsibility to make sure that they have an insurance policy that covers that activity,” said Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican who co-led the joint committee that crafted the legislation.

Uber has indicated that it will resume service once the new bill becomes law.

“The people of Kansas spoke, and lawmakers listened,” Lauren Altmin, a spokeswoman for the company, said in a statement. “Kansas has reclaimed its position as a champion for innovation and competition, and we are excited about bringing Uber back to the Sunflower State.”

The new bill drops the KBI background checks, but it would bar Uber and other ride-hailing services from hiring drivers who have been convicted of a felony or who are listed in a national or state sex offender registry. If Uber or another company failed to enforce these requirements, it would face a civil suit from the state attorney general’s office.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt played a key role in helping craft the compromise, Schwab said. The bill will allow Uber to perform its own background checks instead of going through the KBI, but Schwab said the new bill gives the state stronger enforcement by allowing the attorney general to sue.

“The attorney general really gave us some spine,” Schwab said.

Schmidt said in an e-mail that he was happy to help lawmakers “in ironing out technical details of the bill to promote public safety.”

Ride-hailing services like Uber allow customers to hail a ride using an app on their smartphones. Several states have grappled with how to regulate ride-hailing services, which differ from traditional cab companies because drivers use their own cars.

Schwab said that the new bill, which has Uber’s backing, could become a model for the nation.

LeRene Bazzelle, an Uber driver in Wichita, said she is pleased the company and lawmakers came to a compromise.

“The insurance piece is important and will be sure to ‘cover the gap’ between logging in and picking up a rider,” Bazelle said in an e-mail. “I am so happy to get back on the road soon and start seeing my customers again!”

To reach Bryan Lowry, call 785-296-3006 or send email to blowry@wichitaeagle.com.

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