Politics & Government

Kansas House, Senate approve measure to bring back Uber

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TOPEKA — Uber could return to Kansas as early as this week.

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

The House voted 119-3 and the Senate voted 37-0 to approve SB 101, a compromise bill supported by Uber, on Tuesday. It heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Uber has indicated that it will resume service when 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.”

Lawmakers had been besieged with angry e-mails and social media messages from constituents since Uber announced its departure earlier this month after the Legislature overrode Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of an earlier bill with stricter regulations.

“It is pretty nice to have it behind us,” said Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, who led negotiations on crafting a compromise.

“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,” Longbine said.

The original bill 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.

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 onus would be on drivers to buy the insurance, and failure to do so could result in a driver losing his or her vehicle.

It drops the KBI background checks but would bar 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, said Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, who co-chaired the joint committee that crafted the legislation.

“The attorney general really gave us some spine,” Schwab said, contending that although Uber will perform its own background checks, the state will have stronger enforcement power because the attorney general will be able to sue.

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.”

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

Schwab said the new bill could become a model for the nation.

“Now that Uber signed off on that, other states they can say, hey, look, we’re going to go with what Kansas did because you said it was OK in Kansas,” Schwab said.

LeRene Bazzelle, an Uber driver in Wichita, said she’s 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,” Bazzelle said in an e-mail. “I am so happy to get back on the road soon and start seeing my customers again!”

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

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