Politics & Government

Gov. Sam Brownback vetoes bill adding regulations to Uber

Joel Gutierrez has been driving for Uber for the past several months. (April 1, 2015)
Joel Gutierrez has been driving for Uber for the past several months. (April 1, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

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

SB 117 would have required Uber drivers to undergo criminal background checks conducted by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and to certify that they have comprehensive and collision insurance to avoid gaps in coverage.

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

Brownback said in a statement that the bill would overregulate an emerging industry. Uber is operating in Wichita and the Kansas City metro area.

“Kansas should be known as a state that embraces economic growth and innovation,” he said in the 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. This will allow companies like Uber to continue and expand operations in Kansas, where they otherwise would not be able to do so.”

Brownback met with representatives from Uber in recent days before making his decision on the bill.

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

“We applaud today’s bold action by Governor Brownback to veto SB 117 – a move that protects thousands of jobs while making clear that Kansas firmly embraces innovation and economic growth,” Lauren Altmin, spokeswoman for Uber, said in an e-mail.

Kansas is not the only state to consider stronger insurance regulations for rideshare companies. California adopted similar regulations after an Uber driver allegedly struck and killed a girl in San Francisco while on the way to pick 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, R-Emporia. “And that’s all the bill did.”

Longbine said the bill made common sense and disputed the notion that it was overreaching. 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, R-Wichita, said in an e-mail that she loves Uber as a customer, but says she thinks 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. “These discussions have already begun among Uber and many major insurances companies. The same should begin with banks and credit unions.

“I look forward to reviewing a new bill that results from these conversations.”

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

“This governor’s made some poor decisions, but this one takes the cake,” said Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, who chairs the House Insurance Committee, which worked on the bill.

“I mean, when 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.

Schwab noted that the veto comes at a time when the governor needs as many political allies as he can find. About an hour before the veto announcement, the governor’s budget director said the Legislature would need to find $400 million in tax increases or budget cuts to balance the budget.

“This governor’s struggling to make friends right now, and he didn’t help himself,” Schwab said.

When asked whether the governor wasted political capital, Schwab replied, “More than wasting. He’s filling the place up with natural gas and lighting a cigarette.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen somebody govern so poorly. 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.”

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

Schwab, however, accused Brownback of endangering Kansans.

“If someone’s a sexual predator, being an Uber driver is a great opportunity,” he said. “And 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.”

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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