Yael T. Abouhalkah

Kansas GOP lawmakers crush Uber, snub Gov. Sam Brownback

Uber’s headquarters are in San Francisco, a long way from the controversy that played out Tuesday in the Kansas Legislature.
Uber’s headquarters are in San Francisco, a long way from the controversy that played out Tuesday in the Kansas Legislature. The Associated Press

Kansas legislators on Tuesday crushed Uber and snubbed Gov. Sam Brownback.

The Republican-dominated Senate and House easily voted to override Brownback’s late-April veto of a bill that would impose new rules on Uber, the ride-hailing company out of California.

Upon hearing that, Uber on Tuesday afternoon announced it was shutting down service in the Sunflower State. “Effective immediately, Uber can no longer operate in KS,” said a message posted on an Uber site.

Uber strongly opposed the regulations and had campaigned for the veto and then for the Legislature to uphold it.

But lawmakers apparently decided that the jobs brought to Kansas by Uber weren’t enough to entice them to sustain Brownback’s veto. So the law, which requires strong background checks for drivers among other things, will stand.

Tuesday’s action was a rebuke to Uber’s strong-armed ways of flooding legislators’ email systems with words of support from its drivers and others in Kansas.

And notably, the legislative votes showed that Republicans would not support a major decision made by a fellow GOP governor.

While this might be considered an expected defeat for Brownback, it was still a stinging one, given all the work the Legislature and governor have to do in working together in the coming months to balance the badly underfunded Kansas budget.

Last month, when he vetoed the Uber bill, Brownback had said: “Kansas should be known as a state that embraces economic growth and innovation. The jobs created by this new industry can bring opportunity to many Kansas families.... This will allow companies like Uber to continue and expand operations in Kansas, where they otherwise would not be able to do so.”

As if on cue, Uber immediately said it was expanding service to Lawrence, Leavenworth, Manhattan and Topeka.

Uber’s statement praised Brownback this way: “These launches would not have been possible without the action taken by Governor Brownback and his willingness to support and grow new industries, such as ridesharing, in Kansas. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with legislators and every Kansas stakeholder who is interested in helping craft a smart regulatory framework for this new transportation option.”

But that decision by Uber appears to have not lasted long, based on its decision to shut down service in Kansas.

The governor’s original veto drew some heated and scornful comments from a fellow Republican, Scott Schwab of Olathe.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen somebody govern so poorly,” he said. “From a guy who admits there’s a gap in insurance, he’s willing to leave that exposure because he wants to pander to a $44 billion San Francisco company … it’s ridiculous.”

In the end, Schwab’s side won this argument, while Uber and Brownback lost.

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.