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Chris Paddie

How bad is the “Patrick Lite” bathroom bill?

For one view, there’s this, from Texas Competes:

A review of press coverage shows that the Texas “bathroom bill” debate generated $216 million in publicity for the state of Texas in the period from January 10, 2016 through May 22, 2017.

During the 85th Texas legislative session, 25,774 local, state, and national articles were written about the efforts to pass bathroom and changing room restrictions on transgender adults and children. More than 20,000 of these articles were published outside of Texas.

The media tracking service Meltwater was used to generate the data; its language-detecting algorithm deemed 73% of the coverage, or $155.5 million, “neutral;” 25%, or $56.4 million, “negative;” and 2%, or $4 million, “positive.” A review of coverage categorized as “positive” by the software revealed that these stories largely described efforts by performing artists, businesses, sports organizations and others to protest “bathroom bills.” Overall, the sentiment calculated across all news coverage was deeply negative, as seen in the chart below. (The February 2017 spike in sentiment was largely related to a “positive” story covering the NBA’s decision to move its All-Star Game from Charlotte to the LGBT-inclusive city of New Orleans.)

The topic of bathroom restrictions for transgender Texans has been shepherded into the spotlight by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and vocal anti-LGBT backers like Empower Texans, Conservative Republicans of Texas, and Texas Values.

Texas business leaders and small business owners have consistently cited the war for talent as a major concern related to the state’s anti-LGBT reputation. “HR executives and business leaders voice concern to us when stories about discrimination dominate the news about Texas,” said Jessica Shortall, Managing Director of Texas Competes, a coalition of nearly 1,300 Texas employers and chambers of commerce making the economic case for an LGBT-friendly Texas. “We cannot maintain the pipeline of talent needed to fuel this state’s economy in the face of national coverage that tells young workers that Texas is in the business of discrimination.”

In a February UT/TT 2017 poll, a majority of Texans said that it’s “not important” for the legislature to pass a bathroom law. In March, the Public Religion Research Institute released a poll showing that 53% of Americans oppose laws requiring transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth. In a recent USA TODAY poll, Americans aged 18 to 35 – a group representing the current and future talent pool for many Texas employers – oppose bathroom laws by nearly a two-to-one ratio.

You know how they say there’s no such thing as bad publicity? This will be a test of that. And I’m sure North Carolina’s glad we’re getting all the attention for being transphobic and unwelcoming now. It’s taking some of the heat off of them.

As bad as the perception is, the reality may be somewhat less harsh, though that remains to be seen.

“I think it’s going to depend on how people interpret the amendment,” said Dax Gonzalez, assistant director of governmental relations for the Texas Association of School Boards, which represents the state’s school districts and provides guidance to them on policies related to transgender students.

Under Paddie’s interpretation, the amendment would nix existing trans-inclusive policies at some school districts that allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice at school. (Some Texas school districts allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity through formal policies or on a case-by-case basis.)

But the school board association, which endorsed the measure on Sunday night, argues school districts could probably maintain such policies, possibly with a few tweaks, because of the measure’s “flexibility.”

“I think what it boils down to is that this amendment is pretty flexible and open to interpretation,” Gonzalez added.


After the Sunday vote, Straus suggested the Paddie amendment would not require schools to make significant modifications to how they “handle sensitive issues.”

School groups agree because providing single-stall facilities for students seeking bathroom-related accommodations is something school districts “would do anyway,” so the amendment doesn’t make a “significant change” on that front, said Jennifer Canaday, governmental relations director for the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

When it comes to the amendment’s possible effects on efforts to accommodate transgender students beyond single-occupancy bathrooms, Canaday echoed the school board association in saying there was “enough ambiguity” in the amendment to allow for different interpretations by school districts.

But she indicated that the school group — which deemed bathroom-related legislation “a solution in search of a problem” — was still sifting through any possible repercussions for trans-inclusive policies in place across the state.

“Obviously there’s some confusion,” she said. “It may take some time [to figure out] how school districts interpret this.”

I strongly suspect that more forward-thinking districts like HISD will continue to accommodate trans students as best they can, while districts with jerks for Superintendents like Pearland ISD will take a hard line. It will inevitably be up to the courts to sort it out.

One major danger zone in all this is privacy concerns.

The measure poses an excruciating dilemma for Texas schools that have quietly agreed at parents’ requests to keep secret the birth genders of some students.

To comply with state law, teachers might have to send transgender students to the bathroom of their birth gender or to a single-occupancy bathroom, shocking their peers.

The legislation “really boxes in school systems,” said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a spokeswoman for the national transgender rights organization Trans Equality.


Currently, each school and school district determines how to handle students whose birth genders are secret — a small portion of Texas’ thousands of transgender minors. A survey conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA indicated that 13,800 Texas teens identify as transgender, but the number of children under age 13 is not known.

Even if this law isn’t quite as bad as it could be, given its limited reach, it’s still potentially catastrophic for thousands of children. Not everyone is out, and not everyone wants to be, but what is a school to do with a trans kid who doesn’t want his or her classmates to know about that? Trans kids are already at an elevated risk for suicide. When something bad happens, don’t say we weren’t warned. The DMN, Burkablog, and Deadspin, both of which note the lack of any response so far from the NCAA, have more.

UPDATE: The Senate will reject the “Patrick Lite” amendment in SB2078. Nothing good can come of this.

Amendment focused on school bathrooms passes the House

I had some hope that we could make it through this session without something like this happening, but clearly we could not.

Amid threats of a special legislative session over the “bathroom bill,” the Texas House on Sunday took a last-minute vote to approve a proposal that would keep transgender students from using school bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The House voted 91-50 to amend Senate Bill 2078 — which focuses on school districts’ “multihazard emergency operations plans” — to add bathroom restrictions that some Republicans had pushed for since the beginning of the legislative session.

Throughout the tense floor debate, Republicans insisted the legislation was not meant to target transgender students, while Democrats likened the proposal to Jim Crow-era policies that segregated bathroom use based on race. Under the proposal, a transgender student who “does not wish” to use a facility based on “biological sex” would instead use single-stall restrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities at their school.

“White. Colored. I was living through that era … bathrooms divided us then, and it divides us now,” Democratic state Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, a black woman, told her colleagues. “America has long recognized that separate but equal is not equal at all.”

Saying the amendment would provide “definitive guidance” to school districts, Republican state Rep. Chris Paddie of Marshall argued that his amendment language did not discriminate “against anyone.”

“This is does not provide an accommodation for a protected class of students. This provides an accommodation for all students,” Paddie said.

But the adopted amendment could override existing trans-inclusive policies at some school districts that allow transgender children to use the bathroom of their choice.


Gov. Greg Abbott, who was largely silent on the issue throughout the legislative session, recently endorsed the bathroom legislation as a priority. His office had insisted that he believed the legislation could be passed during the regular legislative session.

But Straus on Sunday said the governor made clear “he would demand action on this in a special session, and the House decided to dispose of the issue in this way.”

After Sunday’s vote, Straus suggested in a statement that the amendment would not drastically alter the way in which schools have handled “sensitive issues,” and would help the state “avoid the severely negative impact of Senate Bill 6.”

“Members of the House wanted to act on this issue and my philosophy as Speaker has never been to force my will on the body,” Straus said of the vote despite his opposition to bathroom-related legislation.


Despite the whittled-down version that was ultimately voted on, Democrats refused to characterize the legislation in any other way but a “bathroom bill.”

“Let’s be honest and clear here: This amendment is the bathroom bill, and the bathroom bill is an attack on transgender people,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso. “Some people don’t want to admit that. Maybe that’s because they’re ashamed, but make no mistake about it — this is shameful.”

Let this be a lesson, kids – hostage-taking is often a successful strategy. I get why Straus and company thought passing what RG Ratcliffe called “Patrick Lite” might be an effective way to mollify the angry wraith Dan Patrick, but discrimination is still discrimination, and Patrick wasn’t mollified by the House’s inadequate sacrifice anyway, because nothing less than everything he wants is ever enough for him. Let this be a lesson to you, Texas Association of Business and others – Dan Patrick and his cronies are your opponents, and he will never go away on this. If there isn’t a special session or a further attempt at appeasement, he will continue his jihad in 2019. Unless, of course, he’s not there presiding over the Senate. You can maybe help make that happen if you want to. What do you have to lose? The Chron, the Observer, the Press, and Equality Texas have more.

Senate passes statewide rideshare bill

It’s a done deal.

After a debate among lawmakers over the best way to regulate services like Uber and Lyft, the Texas Senate on Wednesday backed a proposal that would override local regulations concerning ride-hailing companies.

House Bill 100 would establish a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies and undo local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models.

“Regulating them at the city level will always be challenging,” the bill’s Senate author, state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said. “Transportation, by nature, is a regional concern.”

His bill passed in the upper chamber in a 20-10 vote on its third and final reading. The measure now heads to the governor’s desk.

Though the vote on the bill was originally announced as 20-10, senate records later showed it actually passed 21-9, meaning more than two-thirds of the Senate supported the measure. That distinction matters because of a provision in the bill that allows it to go into effect immediately after the governor signs it instead of on Sept. 1 if it receives support of two-thirds of the members in both chambers. As the measure passed the House in a 100-35 vote, it means ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft could potentially return to cities like Austin as early as this summer.

You know the story on this one. The offensive “definition of sex” amendment is still in there, which I have to hope winds up not meaning much in the grand scheme of things. And I agree with mayor Turner that this is “another example of the legislature circumventing local control”, but all things considered it’s less of that than it could have been. I know I’m rationalizing, but such is how it is these days. Expect to see the pink Lyft mustache in town again, as they have been recruiting drivers in anticipation of this. Maybe some other services will come to town as well. Whatever you think of this soon-to-be-law, there will be one fewer obstacle to entry.

Rideshare bill advances in Senate

It was almost different and then it wasn’t, but it still could be.

Rep. Chris Paddie

Paid ride companies such as Uber and Lyft are one step closer to the statewide oversight they crave, after a state Senate committee approved a revised plan to regulate them, as opposed to cities.

Members of the Senate State Affairs committee approved the bill, unchanged from what was sent by House lawmakers in HB 100, sponsored by State Rep, Chris Paddie, R-Marshall. The bill establishes statewide rules for paid ride companies that connect willing drivers and interested riders by smartphone. State rules would eliminate any city regulations, while still giving cities control to regulate taxi and limousine drivers and companies.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, at first proffered a substituted version of the bill, then rescinded the substitute without discussion so the committee could approve the original version.

“Several senators expressed a desire to offer additional changes to HB 100,” said Thomas Halloway, chief of staff for Schwertner, in an email. “In the interest of moving the legislation forward, we agreed the most appropriate action was to move the original bill to the floor so all senators have the opportunity to offer their own thoughts.”

As a result, the bill the senate will consider retains a clause added by House lawmakers that defines sex as “the physical condition of being male or female.”

See here and here for some background. Sen. Schwertner had originally stripped that bad amendment out of the bill, so I am hopeful that it will get amended out on the floor of the Senate. We’ll see.

Uber and Lyft speak on the “biological sex” amendment in statewide rideshare bill

It’s a start.

Five days after a controversial amendment defining “sex” as “male or female” was added to a statewide ride-hailing bill, representatives from Uber and Lyft called the addition disappointing and unnecessary — though both companies stopped short of saying they’d withdraw their support.

“We are disappointed that this unnecessary amendment was added to legislation that should be focused on adopting a consistent statewide framework for ride sharing,” Uber spokesman Travis Considine said. “Uber’s comprehensive national nondiscrimination policy will not change.”

“The adopted amendment is unnecessary, as Lyft’s strong nondiscrimination policy remains in effect no matter what local or state statutes exist,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison said.

Neither Considine nor Harrison said their respective companies would pull back support of the bill over the amendment, which would define “sex” as the “physical condition of being male or female.” Considine said Uber’s existing nondiscrimination policy won’t change — it prohibits “discrimination against riders or drivers based on race, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, sex, marital status, gender identity and age, among other things.”

See here for the background. It would have been nice if they would have spoken up sooner, but at least they have now done so. I’m glad they have reiterated their nondiscrimination policies, which I suppose makes that Tinderholt amendment moot for them, but the door is open for a company that would discriminate on the basis of gender presentation or identity if this bill gets passed in the Senate as is. The goal here is to take that out of the final version. The statements from Uber and Lyft help, but it’s going to take more than that.

House passes statewide rideshare bill

Made it farther than it did last session.

Rep. Chris Paddie

After a lengthy debate among lawmakers over the best way to regulate services like Uber and Lyft, the Texas House backed a proposal that would override local regulations concerning ride-hailing companies.

House Bill 100, by state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, would establish a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies and undo local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models. Cities enacting such rules say those regulations bring a needed layer of security.

As of mid-morning Wednesday, 79 members in the 150-member House — including Paddie — had signed on to the bill as authors or co-authors.

“HB 100 is not about a particular company or any particular city,” Paddie said Wednesday on the House floor. “Statewide regulations for transportation network companies have become the best practice across the country.”

His bill was tentatively approved by the lower chamber in a 110-37 vote after representatives tacked on several amendments, including one that seeks to define “sex.” The measure needs final approval from the House before it could be considered in the Senate.

At times, the debate over the bill appeared to veer into one of the most contentious topics this session at the Capitol: gender identity. In the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has prioritized a “bathroom bill” that would require transgender people to use the restroom in some places that matches their “biological sex.”

On Wednesday, state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, successfully amended the ride-hailing bill to define “sex” as the “physical condition of being male or female.” The amendment, which passed 90-52, drew some concern from Democrats, who questioned whether it was a way to exclude a certain group.

“I can assure you that it is not my intent,” Paddie said, adding that he accepted the amendment because he views it as “further defining something that’s already defined.”

HB 100 would require ride-hailing companies to have a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and pay an annual fee to operate throughout the state. It also calls for companies to perform local, state and national criminal background checks on drivers annually — which would override an Austin ordinance.

See here for the background. Two related Senate bills were heard in committee, with SB361 by Sen. Nichols getting passed out. I don’t know what to make of the “biological sex” amendment beyond the continued obsession of certain zealots. What’s more important is what do Uber and Lyft, who have been pushing hard for a statewide rideshare bill, think of it?

Well, Uber and Lyft? What do you say? Those of you who use Uber and Lyft, what do you want them to say about this? I would recommend you tell them. Maybe this will get stripped out going forward, but that almost certainly won’t happen without some pressure. Now is the time to bring it. And kudos to the members who pulled their support for this bill in response to the needless amendment.

The Chron adds some details.

The bill would give oversight of companies that connect willing drivers and interested riders via smart phone to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The companies that operate the smart phone app and process payments between the riders and drivers would pay a $5,000 annual licensing fee, and certify that its drivers meet a number of requirements already common among the companies.

Uber and Lyft have aggressively sought state rules in Texas because of their opposition to city requirements, notably Austin and Houston. In Austin, both companies left the city after new rules that included fingerprint background checks went into effect nearly one year ago.


As with the contentious fights at the local level, discussion also focused on requiring the fingerprinting of drivers. The companies vigorously oppose fingerprint background checks, favoring their background checks based on Social Security numbers.

Numerous attempts to require fingerprint checks or allow cities to require them failed as amendments to Paddie’s bill.

“We should not take chances with any life,” said Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, noting many professions in Texas are subject to the fingerprint background check.

Paddie deflected the requests for fingerprints and efforts to allow cities to require more strenuous permitting, noting fingerprints can’t predict future behavior.

“We have 150 teachers in this state under investigation for improper relationships with students,” Paddie said.

Seems like you could use that reasoning to justify a lot of things, but whatever. I feel like one way or the other, something is going to pass. As I’ve said, I’ve basically resigned myself to that, but I still don’t approve of the assault on local control. I hope this winds up being the outer edge of that assault, but I’m less than optimistic about that. The DMN has more.

Senate committee hears rideshare bills

One of these, in some form, is likely to become law.

Senate Bill 176, by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, and Senate Bill 361 by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, received a joint hearing after [Senate Business & Commerce Committee] chairman Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, noted their similarities. Both bills establish a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft and undo local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models.

A majority of about 30 witnesses supported the bills at Tuesday’s hearing, including representatives with Uber and Lyft. Austin councilwoman Ellen Troxclair, who opposed the city’s ride-hailing rules last year, testified in favor of a state law that would override them. Troxclair said the departure of both ride-hailing companies hurt Austin businesses and led to a rise of a transportation black market.

“A Facebook group with over 40,000 members offers to connect people, anybody who wants a ride or anybody who’s willing to give one, regardless of an affiliation to a ride-sharing platform or a background check required,” she said.

Critics of the bills included the Texas Municipal League and Austin City Council member Ann Kitchen. Kitchen, the City Council member who introduced the rules establishing the Austin fingerprinting requirements that prompted Lyft and Uber to leave the city, defended the city’s fingerprinting requirement, and said that the city has fingerprinted 8,000 drivers. At the time the city adopted the rules, she said, the city’s police chief, Art Acevedo, told the council that fingerprinting increased security.

“Fingerprinting is the most effective means to make sure the person you are checking is the person who they say they are,” she said.

See here for some background. Both bills were left pending, but as noted I expect one of them to get a floor vote and to pass. There’s a very similar bill to these two in the House, authored by Rep. Chris Paddie. Any of them could wind up crossing the finish line, and I’ll be surprised if that doesn’t happen.

And on a somewhat tangential note:

Uber and Lyft ramped up their Texas lobby expenditures after Austin voters invited the ride-hailing giants to leave their hi-tech city in 2016 if they refused to comply with a local law requiring them to fingerprint their drivers.

With Texas lawmakers [Tuesday] considering several bills to block cities from regulating such ride companies,1 Uber has increased its state lobby spending 23 percent over last year. It now is spending up to $1.6 million on 26 lobbyists. Lyft meanwhile boosted its lobby spending 88 percent, to pay 14 lobbyists up to $760,000. Together, the two San Francisco-based
companies are spending up to $2.3 million to preempt the powers of local Texas governments.

The two ride giants handed out a total of $40,500 in corporate contributions in 2016 to Texas’ two dominant political parties and to several legislative caucuses.

[Tuesday] the Senate Business and Commerce Committee also is hearing proposals to prevent local governments from curtailing the use of plastic grocery bags or to regulate short-term property rentals.

You can think whatever you want about these bills, but you can’t argue that they don’t come cheap. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Paddie files another rideshare bill

From the inbox:

Rep. Chris Paddie

Texas State Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) has filed legislation proposing a statewide regulatory framework for transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft. House Bill 100 will help bring economic opportunity and access to safe, reliable transportation to more Texans.

“It is time to end the inconsistencies of regulations across the state that stand in the way of transportation innovation and adopt a uniform, common sense law focused on safety and access to new technology,” said Rep. Paddie, who is also the former Mayor of Marshall. “In order to encourage growth and innovation, businesses need consistency and certainty. Statewide rules are necessary so riders and drivers can travel from places like Center, TX, to Carthage using ridesharing technology without hitting regulatory barriers.”

About H.B. 100:

Regulatory Certainty: There are more than 1,000 cities in our state and TNC drivers cross invisible lines of jurisdiction with riders on a daily basis. With trips occurring all over Texas and between cities, it’s clear statewide rules are necessary. 36 other states have passed statewide bills regulating TNC’s.

Public Safety: Requires TNCs to conduct a local, state and nationwide criminal background check, including checking the national sex offender database. Requires that applicants convicted of certain offenses are prohibited from being TNC drivers. TNCs also play a role in helping to reduce alcohol-impaired driving in communities where they operate.

Economic Opportunity: TNCs contribute significantly to the local economies where they operate and are on the forefront of innovation improving rural & urban mobility. People from all walks of life choose to drive because it provides a flexible opportunity to earn based on their own schedules and priorities.

Rep. Paddie was the author of a rideshare bill that got the most traction in 2015. His bill joins three others in the Senate and would seem to have a decent chance of passing or being very similar to a bill that passes. Along those lines, I emailed Rep. Paddie’s office after receiving this press release to ask if 1) HB100 was basically the same as HB2440, his bill from last session, and 2) how much it was like the three Senate bills. I was told that it was in fact basically the same as HB2440, with the exception of the insurance provisions that did pass last time, and HB100 was most like the Nichols and Schwertner bills in the Senate, though all of the bills have differences. So add this to your list of bills to watch, and we’ll see which ones make it to the finish line.

How do other states regulate ridesharing?

The Texas Legislature would like to know.


As Texas lawmakers consider filing legislation next year related to ride-hailing companies, they learned Tuesday that more than 30 states have passed laws calling for some level of regulation of companies like Uber and Lyft.

A report presented by Texas A&M University’s Transportation Institute analyzed state and municipal regulations since 2012. It found that 24 states passed legislation requiring ride-hailing apps, sometimes referred to as transportation network companies, must apply for a state permit before operating. The report also found that 30 states require background checks on the driver before or a specific amount of time after the driver begins working.


“Transportation network companies have expanded rapidly to cities worldwide,” Ginger Goodin, a senior research engineer and director at the institute, told House Transportation Committee members at a hearing Tuesday. “However, they do not fit neatly within our current regulatory schemes.”


According to Goodin, there is no statewide policy in the country that requires fingerprint-based background checks. The group did not look into the number of municipalities that require those checks.

“There are many questions and unknowns,” Goodin said. The institute expects to continue to research the ride-hailing companies in the future.

You can see a copy of the report here. It seems very likely we are going to get some kind of statewide Uber/Lyft bill, it’s just a matter of whether the bill is a complete sop to them or if it tries to balance their interests with those of the cities and existing cab companies. The two Transportation chairs – Sen. Robert Nichols and Rep. Joe Pickett – are decent, and the guy who introduced the statewide bill last session (Rep. Chris Paddie) took the process seriously, so if those three are among the main movers, it’ll probably be all right. Just keep the chuckleheads like Sen. Don Huffines away from it, that’s all I ask.

What’s the roadmap for ridesharing regulations look like?

This is going to be a challenge, no matter how you feel about it.


Several state legislators have made it clear they’re eager to take control of rules for ride-hailing companies in Texas, shifting power from individual cities to the state. But with six months until the next legislative session, there’s no clear consensus on how exactly to go about it.

The Legislature has tried before — and failed — to come up with statewide regulations sought by industry heavyweights Uber and Lyft to free them from conflicting local rules.

But the recent decision by voters in Austin — the conservative state’s liberal capital — to reject rules sought by the ride-hailing giants has been a rallying cry for lawmakers.

“We don’t live in a democracy,” said. Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas. “All the authority cities have comes from the Legislature. They exist by the mercy of the Legislature. So we have a distinct role in overseeing all political subdivisions that we create, and we’ve got to make sure that they don’t trample economic liberty, personal liberty and freedoms.”

After the Austin election, Huffines immediately called for state regulations, or what he called “deregulations,” and was unconcerned with overriding the will of local voters.


“People get riled up, and they pick up their pitchforks and they run to the ballot box or they run to the barn and tar and feather or lynch someone,” he said. “We have rules of law relating to protecting the views of the minority.”

Huffines wasn’t the only state legislator whose ears perked up at news that Austin voters upheld city rules for ride-hailing companies over those backed by Uber and Lyft. His Senate colleague, Georgetown Republican Charles Schwertner, also pledged to draft legislation.

“We’re exploring all options,” Schwertner said. “There’s the background check and then there’s fingerprinting, those are two separate issues. There’s competing discussions … I personally have not made any decisions as to what is the best statutory language to put in the bill.”


For Schwertner, the layered concerns of ride-hailing companies, drivers, riders and municipalities indicate that statewide regulations would be the best route forward.

“I think the safety issue in my mind is paramount,” he said, pointing to concerns with drunk driving. “[There is] the mobility issue, economic issue — it’s multi-tiered. It’s not just a local control versus state regulation issue. It’s all those things. When you look at the totality of the concerns, it favors statewide, uniform, consistent and fair regulation.”

I’m glad to hear that from Sen. Schwertner, since his initial statements following the rejection of Prop 1 were mostly bombast. I’m still not convinced that the Legislature needs to step in on what has traditionally been a local issue, but if we can have a reasonably serious discussion about what we want ridesharing regulations to accomplish, and if we can get Uber and Lyft to be more forthcoming with their data, then this could be a positive experience. My personal preference, if this must happen, is for the state to provide a minimum set of standards that cities and counties are then allowed to add onto as they see fit. And if we really care about having a free market and not just a greased skid for the two major players, then let’s be sure to not impede the new players who are trying to fill the niche that Uber and Lyft voluntarily left behind.

On the matter of overriding municipal ordinances, that appears to now be on the table:

After a visit Wednesday from top Uber brass, Texas state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, appeared to soften his position against a possible statewide bill that would replace city ordinances regulating rideshare companies.

As the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Pickett’s position on the matter is crucial. Any bill regulating how companies such as Uber screen their drivers likely would be assigned to his committee, where Pickett would have power to block them.


Immediately after [the Austin Prop 1 rideshare vote], two Republican lawmakers said they would introduce bills in the 2017 legislative session that would overturn fingerprint requirements in Austin and Houston. Pickett said he would oppose such bills since they would thwart the will of local voters.

However, the El Paso lawmaker this week said there might be some room for compromise.

Houston Chronicle business columnist Chris Tomlinson in May speculated that the real reason Uber and Lyft are opposed to fingerprinting drivers is that their turnover rate is so high that many drivers won’t wait the 10 or so days it takes for the checks to be completed.

An Uber spokeswoman Thursday did not respond directly when asked if that is the case.

But Pickett said that on Wednesday he discussed a compromise with Uber brass that might solve that problem. Under it, riders could specifically request drivers who had undergone fingerprint-based FBI background checks.

“I told them that on the surface, it seemed like a hybrid that could work,” Pickett said.

Pickett goes on to say that he’d want to see if this idea is acceptable to cities and his colleagues first. It’s also not clear if Uber and Lyft would go for this; the basic idea has been floated in Austin with no apparent interest. There’s still a lot of moving parts here, and it’s not clear what if anything will be the consensus position, or at least the position that a majority will approve.

On a side note, good Lord is Don Huffines an idiot. Please, Dallas Democrats, find someone who can run against him in 2018. I know that’s an off-year and all, but his district isn’t that red. Even in the dumpster fire of 2014, SD16 was what passes for competitive, with Greg Abbott leading Wendy Davis by a 57.5-41.0 margin; not close, obviously, but slightly less Republican than the state as a whole. Please find a decent candidate and put some money into that race. Surely we can do better than this.

Uber and Lyft do what they said they would

They’ve cut and run.


Uber and Lyft made good on their threat to end Austin service Monday, pulling out two days after voters rejected their $9.1 million bid to overturn the city’s rules for ride-hailing companies.

Their departure came despite offers from Mayor Steve Adler to return to the table to negotiate a compromise. Meanwhile, smaller ride-hailing firms tried to press their newfound advantage.

“If they’re saying the election results mean they had to leave town, maybe they shouldn’t have asked for the election,” said Jason Stanford, Adler’s spokesman.

“The mayor’s been very clear,” Stanford added. “They are welcome to stay, and he invites them to the table, regardless of what they choose to do at this point.”



In notices posted on their apps Monday, both Uber and Lyft blamed their pullout on the City Council’s rules, making no mention of the failed ballot measure to overturn them.

“Due to City Council action, Lyft cannot operate in Austin,” Lyft’s statement read. “Contact your City Council member now to tell them you want Lyft back.”

Uber’s statement was similar: “Due to regulations passed by City Council, Uber is no longer available within Austin city limits. We hope to resume operations under modern ridesharing regulations in the near future.”

Let’s be clear about one thing: Uber and Lyft were not forced to leave Austin. The rejection of Prop 1 simply means that the city’s existing rideshare ordinance – which as I understand it has not actually begun requiring fingerprint checks yet – remains in place. Uber and Lyft chose to leave rather than operate under those conditions, as Uber has done for the past year and a half in Houston and as both of them have done for longer than that in New York. Nothing about the Prop 1 vote requires them to leave. It is entirely their choice. There has always been room for further discussion on this, though it’s hard to do so when the first move is to go to DefCon 5. But despite all the rhetoric and millions of dollars flushed down the pockets of political consultant and media buyers, it’s not too late to start talking.

What should happen now, then?

Fingerprint-based background checks aren’t great. The FBI’s database is known to be flawed with outdated and inaccurate information. It’s kind of like taking your shoes off before you get on an airplane—it provides the feeling of security while also inconveniencing a bunch of people for show. Still, it might turn out to be the best option—more on that in a second—but as the city considers what regulations are in everybody’s best interest, now that it has ensured that it has a full complement of options at its disposal, it should be looking beyond fingerprinting.

Isn’t Austin stuck with fingerprinting now that people voted down Prop 1?

Nope. If Prop 1 would have passed, the city would have been prohibited from passing fingerprint-based regulations. But now the city is allowed to create whatever regulations it deems appropriate. City council can—and should–be looking to tweak the current ordinance with one that, for example, doesn’t prove discriminatory against drivers of color the way that fingerprint checks do. Although we doubt that Uber and Lyft are particularly passionate about that issue when it doesn’t directly concern them, the Austin chapter of the NAACP and the Urban League certainly are, and the objections they raised deserve to be considered and taken into account.

So what sort of background check should Lyft and Uber do?

That’s the zillion dollar question here. The problem is that most jobs have a process that screens out people who raise red flags. For most companies, you go through an interview, meet the people you’ll be working for, and get offered the chance to interact with the public based on the judgment of someone who is responsible for making sure that the company is represented well. (Depending on the job, it can also come with more formal background checks.) Because the “hiring” process for Lyft and Uber is more of a “sign up” process, the system relies on computer checks to do all of that work. That’s going to result in a process that has definite flaws—and it’s going to take creativity beyond just “run a fingerprint check” to address them. What that specifically looks like is hard to say, but between Austin’s leaders and Lyft and Uber, you’d think there would be enough brainpower to consider some viable options.


So what would make Uber and Lyft come back to the table, if they can just lobby for new rules in the legislature in 2017?

A couple of things: One, they don’t want to give up market share if a competitor picks up steam here over the next year. Two, it’s hard to keep growing a company that’s opted out of too many markets. Investors who see that Lyft doesn’t operate in Austin or Houston, and who know that they may have to make some threats about leaving L.A., have to give some thought to the growth potential of the company.

So what’s the best case scenario here for everybody?

Smart regulations that don’t rely on fingerprinting would be a good place to start. Austin should want Uber and Lyft operating in the city. Uber and Lyft should want to operate in Austin. Austin should want to create regulations that keep people with a history of DWI arrests, or violence against women, or other red flags like that, from driving people around for money—but it shouldn’t enforce regulations that would, say, keep drivers of color (who are disproportionately arrested for minor infractions that don’t put passengers at risk) from working. That system may not exist yet, but creating it ought to be a priority for everybody.

More than anything, a lot of ego is gonna need to be checked. The people who fought against Prop 1, which had a sort of David and Goliath quality to it, need to recognize that the support they received on Saturday was at least as much of a response to the tone of the campaign Uber and Lyft were running as it was a show of support for the specifics of the current regulations. Drawing a hard line around those specific regulations just because they won the vote would be a short-sighted, wrongheaded move.

Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, definitely need to approach Austin City Council with some humility, and consider not just what makes it easiest for them to add drivers to their ranks, but also that there are legitimate safety issues at stake here that the current regulations fail to address.

As Vox points out, Uber in particular has a choice to make about its public image. At the very least, I don’t think this debacle helped them with that. It would be nice if they came up with a solution – even a suggestion – that was more than “trust us, our process is all you’ll ever need, and if you don’t like it we’ll come after your ass”.

As far as the statewide regulation possibility goes, this is a reminder that there are never any guarantees in the Lege.

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee on Monday said that he prefers cities to set the rules for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies, even after a municipal vote in Austin has prompted new calls for the state to step in.

Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said he’s “more interested in what the public thinks” — and that “they spoke in Austin.” Voters there on Saturday rejected a measure to get rid of the city’s current ride-sharing rules, which will require fingerprint-based background checks.

Some Republicans say the election — and the decision by Uber and Lyft to now leave Austin — shows the need for the state to pass industry-friendly rules. That group grew on Monday to include Sen. Robert Nichols, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

But Pickett didn’t join the dog pile.

If the Legislature were to get involved, Pickett said, it should be through a broad discussion about all car-for-hire models, including taxicabs and limos. And if there are statewide rules, he said, fingerprint-based background checks should be part of the agenda.

“Still, the best would be to let the local municipalities decide,” said Pickett, who stressed that he supports all the ride-hailing options, including Uber and Lyft.


On Monday, Nichols, the Senate Transportation chairman, said in a written statement that “it is important to create consistency with a statewide policy to ensure all requirements for Transportation Network Companies are uniform across the state.”

“It can be difficult for these types of companies to operate when there are different ordinances in cities that are adjacent to each other,” said Nichols, a Jacksonville Republican.

That’s the first we’ve heard from Sen. Nichols since his comment in January that seemed to support a fingerprint requirement in any statewide bill. This story notes that Rep. Chris Paddie’s bill from last session eventually had a fingerprint requirement in it before it passed out of the House committee. We’re a long way from any bills being introduced, and I fully expect this to be a headline fight next year, but all I’m saying is that the signals are mixed right now about what such a bill might wind up looking like. Don’t take any bets on it just yet.

One more thing, from that Statesman story:

Still, the exit of Lyft and Uber from Austin created an opening for GetMe, a small Texas-born ride-hailing upstart.

“GetMe is seeing an unprecedented spike in driver sign-ups, uploads of the app and transactions on the app,” said Jon Laramy, a company co-founder. “I applaud the city of Austin for standing up for, and listening to, the citizens.”

The service had 350 active drivers in the city as of Friday and another 1,600 in the process of joining up, Laramy added, a number that he expects to grow.


GetMe isn’t alone in the Austin market. San Francisco-based Wingz is primarily an airport shuttle service but plans to expand its “private car service” in the next month, the company’s CEO said Monday.

Another company called zTrip offers a variety of services, including airport vans, limousines and a Williamson County cab service and also is eyeing quick growth, owner Billy Carter said Monday. A third upstart service, Phoenix-based Fare, told the Statesman it’s interested in Austin.

By far, the best thing that could happen as a result of this, regardless of what goes on next year in the Lege, is for multiple viable competitors to Uber and Lyft emerge. I mean, isn’t that how a free market is supposed to operate? Let a thousand flowers bloom now that the field has been abandoned by the top predators. We all win in that scenario.

Uber and Lyft versus fingerprints

They prefer to do their own background checks, which of course do not require fingerprint checks.


Houston, San Antonio and Austin currently take different approaches to a key regulatory issue: whether vehicle-for-hire app drivers must undergo fingerprint background checks.

The issue has proven pivotal to Uber and Lyft in Texas. Lyft refuses to operate in Houston, where fingerprint checks are required. Uber isn’t currently available in San Antonio, which has a voluntary fingerprinting program. And both companies are worried that Austin is about to become a lot less hospitable.

“Don’t fix what’s not broken,” Uber Chief Adviser David Plouffe urged Austin leaders at a press conference Monday. “This is working. It’s delivering jobs and it’s delivering important transportation to people that have had a hard time getting it.”

Last October, Austin passed a temporary ordinance allowing vehicle-for-hire apps to operate legally with few restrictions. A year later, Austin City Councilwoman Ann Kitchen is leading an effort to tweak the city’s rules, including requiring fingerprinting drivers so the city can conduct more comprehensive background checks than the companies do.



Uber and Lyft collectively operate in more than a dozen Texas cities, most relying on the companies to handle background checks on drivers. Officials with both companies have said fingerprint requirements are too burdensome. Drivers working fewer than 20 hours a week are critical to the reliability of their services, they say, and requiring them to visit an office to be fingerprinted dissuades many from signing up.

In an email to Austin customers Tuesday, Uber called Kitchen’s proposals “toxic.” Lyft has said it “could jeopardize the future of ride-sharing in Austin.”

“What Austin did last year was really one of the most forward-looking approaches to ride-sharing,” Plouffe said. “This would be a surprising place to take a huge step backward when so much of the regulatory discussion in the U.S. has moved forward.”

Neither Uber not Lyft officials would say for certain what they will do if Austin adopts a fingerprinting requirement. Their recent experiences in Houston and San Antonio show different approaches to the issue.

Houston is one of Uber’s only markets in which its drivers have to undergo fingerprinting. Lyft pulled out of Houston nearly a year ago.

“We do not operate in any market that requires drivers to be fingerprinted,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson said.

Though Uber is still available there, the company isn’t exactly thrilled with Houston’s policy. Uber has more drivers in Austin than much larger Houston “due to the excessive regulations the city has enacted,” spokeswoman Debbee Hancock said. Over the past year, the company has pulled out of other cities that launched fingerprint requirements “in large part because of our experience in Houston.” She declined to say why the company is still operating in Houston.

I figure there are four possible outcomes here. In ascending order of likeliness:

1. Uber and Lyft pull out of Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, because they just don’t care for the regulatory requirements and they can’t get any changes made either in the cities or the Lege.

2. Uber and Lyft accept the status quo and quit trying to change things, staying in the cities they’re in but not going to cities where they’re not.

3. Uber and Lyft manage to come to an accommodation with these three and other cities, and expand where they don’t exist under rules everyone has agreed on.

4. Uber and Lyft manage to convince the Lege to pass a bill that accommodates their preferences and overrides local rideshare ordinances.

You can see why I ordered them that way. Unless #3 happens, I expect a much bigger effort to get a bill similar to the one Rep. Chris Paddie introduced in this last session passed. Anyone see this happening differently?

Mayoral candidate forum season gets underway

Gentlemen, start your oratorical engines for these upcoming Mayoral candidate forums.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The events, which will focus on arts and culture, economic development, and labor and community concerns, kick off a months-long cycle in which the candidates will appear before various interest groups, speaking to their specific concerns.

Wednesday’s arts forum at the Asia Society comes two days after the conclusion of this year’s legislative session in Austin and is expected to be the first time the candidates appear together since former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia entered the race.

The forum hosted by Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Museum District, Theater District Houston and Miller Outdoor Theatre begins at 6:30 p.m. and will be moderated by KTRK reporter Miya Shay.


Thursday’s forum hosted by SPARC Growth Houston, a coalition of economic development groups, will focus on the city budget and economic development. It begins at 6 p.m. at the University of Houston.


Then, on Saturday, the candidates are set to appear before area labor and community organizations for a 9 a.m. forum at Talento Bilingue.

I realize that these particular forums are tightly focused, subject-wise. Nonetheless, as a public service, I offer to the moderators of these forums and any and all future forums, the following questions that I think these candidates should be asked.

1. What is your opinion of the plan TxDOT has put forward to remake I-45 from Beltway 8 into downtown? Have you taken the opportunity to submit feedback to them via their website? The deadline for such feedback is today/was May 31.

2. During the legislative session there was a bill by Rep. Chris Paddie that would have provided a regulatory framework for “rideshare” services like Uber and Lyft to operate anywhere in Texas. In the bill’s initial form, these regulations would have superseded local rideshare ordinances, though after pushback from cities Rep. Paddie agreed to make some changes. What was your opinion of Rep. Paddie’s rideshare bill? Should the state of Texas be the one to regulate these services? Did you contact Rep. Paddie and/or your own Representative to express your opinion on this bill?

3. Texas Central Railway is currently going through the federal environmental review process to get clearance to build a privately-funded high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas. One of the things they are trying to decide is where to put the Houston terminal for this line. Their original plan was for it to be downtown, but they have encountered strong resistance from the neighborhoods that it might have to pass through (there are two possible routes), who object to elevated trains so close to their homes. An alternative now being discussed is for the station to be located at the Northwest Transit Center, though downtown and some other possibilities are still on the table. Where do you believe the Houston terminal for this high speed rail line, for which construction may begin as soon as 2017, should be? Have you gone to any of TCR’s public meetings, or provided feedback to them in any form?

4. As you know, the city received several proposals in response to its RFP for a “one bin for all” solution for solid waste management. These proposals, which are still being evaluated by the city, would require new technology and a substantial investment by a private company. The city has said that if the idea turns out to be infeasible, it will not pursue it. Mayor Parker has said that one way or another, this will be a task for the next Mayor to finish. What is your opinion of the “one bin for all” idea? Would your preference be for the city to pursue it or drop it?

I really really look forward to hearing some answers to these questions, whether next week or sometime soon thereafter.

Statewide Uber bill appears dead

Close, but no cigar.


A bill to establish statewide rules for “transportation network companies” like Uber and Lyft has apparently run out of road.

Rep. Chris Paddie, who authored the measure, said on Tuesday that looming legislative deadlines had rendered the idea all but dead. He said he would look for other avenues for the high-profile proposal, but said his options are limited in the session’s waning days.

The Marshall Republican admitted that “maybe it’s something for another time.”

“This process, which is a great process, makes it very difficult to pass legislation,” he said. “My bill, in this case, was a casualty of the process.”


That result – common for bills at this stage – appears to mark an unspectacular end for a bill that was at the center of high-dollar lobbying efforts for and against it.


But the surest sign that Paddie’s effort faces trouble came on Tuesday, when the House voted overwhelmingly for a bill that would create statewide rules for “transportation network companies” on just one topic: insurance.

That more limited bill had the support of the city of Dallas, for instance, and representatives of Uber and Lyft. While Paddie said he obviously favored his approach, he nonetheless called that effort a “nice first step.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Lots of bills died at midnight last night, but in the parlance of The Princess Bride, Rep. Paddie’s bill is just mostly dead; it won’t be all dead until sine die. As such, it would still be nice for the Mayoral candidates to have an opinion on it, because if it does get revived it will happen all at once and with little to no notice. In the meantime, I don’t know what the bill that would establish insurance rules for TNCs is, but that’s the approach I have advocated from the beginning, so it’s fine by me. We’ll see if it makes it through the Senate. The Trib, which notes the similar deadline-caused demise of the Tesla bills, has more.

Dallas writes a letter to the Lege about Lyft and Uber

They would like for the Lege to not overrule them on regulating these transportation network companies.


Dallas city leaders, writing to House Speaker Joe Straus, have underlined their opposition to a bill that would create statewide rules for “transportation network companies” like Uber and Lyft.

Mayor Mike Rawlings and two City Council members wrote Tuesday in a letter to Straus and Dallas-area state lawmakers that the city still has concerns about the legislation, which would effectively wipe out its lengthy process to craft car-for-hire regulations.

“We are very concerned that [the bill] will erode the fair and level playing field we believe we have achieved in Dallas by subjecting … providers – all of which are more similar than different – to vastly different levels of regulation,” the trio wrote.


The bill offered by Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, has been closely watched this session, especially since huge sums of money have been poured into lobbying efforts on both sides of the debate.


Dallas’ new car-for-hire rules, which go into effect Thursday, actually represented a compromise between Uber, Lyft, limo drivers and independent cab companies.

Officials said a key to that agreement was applying the same basic set of rules to all the different car-for-hire services. That’s different from the proposed legislation, which would create new rules just for the “transportation network companies.”

“TNCs are far more similar to than they are different from traditional taxis and limos,” Rawlings wrote in the letter, co-authored by City Council members Vonciel Jones Hill and Sandy Greyson.

See here, here, and here for the background, and the link above for the letter. Rep. Paddie has said he’s going to continue to tweak his bill, so perhaps this letter can help guide him. The Dallas folks do say that they like and support the insurance provisions in the bill, as do I, so there’s at least the basis for a compromise of some kind. I’m sure the Houston Mayoral candidates will weigh in on this as well, since this is an important issue that would directly affect Houston. Right? (Spoiler: No. It’s potholes and pensions all the way down.)

Statewide Uber/Lyft bill passes out of committee

It’s gotten better, but it’s still not good enough.


A bill to establish statewide rules for “transportation network companies” like Uber and Lyft has been tweaked to address some concerns that its background check requirements weren’t stringent enough.

That change – which would allow cities to require that drivers be fingerprinted as part of such a check – was enough for the bill win passage out of the House Transportation Committee with a 10-2 vote on Wednesday.

The revised bill still isn’t likely to win over cities like Dallas, which would still see their recently crafted vehicle-for-hire regulations essentially wiped out. And with just 40 days left in the session, the legislation still has a long road ahead to become law.

But the bill’s author, Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, said he was optimistic.

“We’ve eliminated the vast majority of concerns,” said Paddie, who added that Uber and Lyft remain on board with the legislation.

The legislation would create statewide rules for companies like Uber and Lyft on issues ranging from vehicle standards to insurance requirements to permitting. The Department of Motor Vehicles would administer the rules, which wouldn’t apply to cabs and limos.


A sticking point in the Legislature has been driver fingerprinting – which isn’t required in Dallas, but is in other cities. And Paddie’s latest amendment to his bill could perhaps allay the worries of some lawmakers and cities who wanted that flexibility.

See here and here for the background. The Chron explains why cities are still opposed to HB2440.


The original bill would have pre-empted local ordinances in favor of statewide regulation, eliminating the ability of a city to regulate background checks for Uber drivers.

State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, who authored the bill, said it will allow cities across the state to enforce local ordinances requiring fingerprint background checks for drivers, a major sticking point for local authorities.

He said that change will happen on the House floor because a reworked version introduced Wednesday had a “drafting problem” that muddled the language on local control of background checks.

“That will give the authority to the cities that if they chose to require more in that they want to require fingerprints, as Houston does, with this change they will be able to do that,” he said.

Paddie, R-Marshall, added: “We basically said ‘cities, we heard ya.”

Uber has vigorously fought against attempts to require its drivers to be subjected to fingerprint-based background checks. Paddie said Uber and Lfyt have agreed to changes giving cities the ability to write and enforce rules for background checks.

New language inserted into the bill also allows cities to require Uber and similar companies that link riders and drivers by smartphone to access a state criminal fingerprinting database, potentially key to help win support from skeptical lawmakers. Paddie, however, said he planned to replace that section of the bill with new language making clear that his bill does not pre-empt cities from requiring fingerprint-based checks.

The bill passed the transportation committee 10-2, with Democratic Reps. Yvonne Davis of Dallas and Celia Israel of Austin opposed.

Davis questioned if allowing cities to set their own ordinances for background checks would keep in place a “mish-mash” of local regulations that the bill originally sought to undo.

“There’s still potential for a mish-mash,” Paddie said, highlighting that standards for fees and insurance would still be regulated statewide.

The new language in the bill “does not prohibit a municipality from requiring by ordinance a transportation network company to access the electronic clearinghouse and subscription service under Section 411.0845, Government Code, for transportation network drivers.”

That assurance, however, doesn’t go nearly far enough and is “useless” in assuring drivers are properly screened, said Lara Cottingham, deputy assistant director in the city’s Regulatory Affairs Department.

Conducting background checks and accessing the clearinghouse are very different things. The clearinghouse is a database of fingerprints collected by various municipal and state agencies.

Honestly, this sounds a lot better, and I’m glad to hear Rep. Paddie talk about working with the cities on this, but the devil remains in the details, especially given that the bill is not yet a finished product. As we know, the experience in Houston has shown that anything less than full fingerprinting is insufficient. The “mish-mash” of not overriding stricter city ordinances on background checks is a feature, not a bug. If that stays in place, I think I’ll be all right with this. Let’s keep an eye on this as it progresses to the House floor, and do feel free to contact your State Rep and let him or her know how you feel about it. And of course – broken record alert – it would be nice to know how the Mayoral candidates feel about it, too. At least with Rep. Sylvester Turner, if it does go to a vote in the House we’ll have his opinion on the record. The rest of them will have to tell us on their own.

The alternate approach to statewide regulations for Uber and Lyft

That’s one way to do it.


Another round of sparring between Texas cities and car service companies like Lyft and Uber played out on Tuesday before a panel of Texas lawmakers. The proposal that was debated — which would let cities regulate Lyft and Uber the same way they regulate traditional taxi companies — would have the opposite effect as a bill another House committee considered last week to strip cities of that authority.

The House Urban Affairs Committee heard public testimony on House Bill 3358 by state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, which gives cities oversight of all commercial transportation services, expanding their control of taxicab and limousine services to include transportation network companies like Lyft and Uber.

“This bill is about fairness — period,” Lucio said. “If they’re going to provide the exact same service, whether it’s on a part-time basis or not, it should be done fairly.”


Representatives for both companies criticized Lucio’s bill, saying a patchwork of unique city regulations would stifle their innovative business model.

April Mims, public policy manager for Lyft, said applying taxi regulations to transportation network companies was “forcing a square peg into a round hole.”

But traditional cab companies, whose business practices are highly regulated by cities, argue that Lyft and Uber should have to play by the same rules as everyone else.

Ed Kargbo, president of Yellow Cab Austin, said allowing Lyft and Uber drivers to operate without city background checks was like allowing doctors or lawyers to practice without a degree just because they work part time.

I believe we are all familiar with the arguments by now. I oppose this bill for the same reason I oppose the other bill – it should be up to cities to decide how to regulate vehicles for hire, as they have always done. As I said before, I think it would be appropriate for the state to set minimum standards for insurance and background checks and the like, but in the end it should still be up to cities to decide if and how to open their doors to these services.

Uber and background checks

Uber is back in the news again, and as has often been the case it’s not in a good way.


Houston officials discovered crimes ranging from aggravated robbery to driving on a suspended license when they checked the backgrounds of prospective Uber drivers who had been cleared by the company’s review, according to a new report.

City regulatory officials cited the cases in documents prepared for a hearing in Austin on Thursday opposing a bill that would give the state control of regulating Uber and strip the city of its oversight – including criminal background checks.

Because Uber’s review, done by a company called Hirease, is based on Social Security numbers rather than fingerprints, it can be more easily manipulated, the city says.

“These companies miss applicants that use aliases,” according to a city report prepared for the hearing. “For example, a recent … driver, who had been cleared by Hirease, underwent a City of Houston fingerprint background check and it turned out she had 24 alias names, 5 listed birth dates, 10 listed Social Security numbers, and an active warrant for arrest.”

As drivers have applied for permits, “several” have been found that have criminal issues not caught by Uber, the report said.

“The charges include indecent exposure, DWI, possession of a controlled substance, prostitution, fraud, battery, assault, robbery, aggravated robbery, possession of marijuana, theft, sale of alcohol to a minor, traffic of counterfeit goods, trademark counterfeit, possession of narcotics, and driving with a suspended license.”


Mayor Annise Parker said Wednesday that the city is determined to enforce its rules.

“We continue to cite drivers, and we can impound cars and we have done that,” Parker said. “This is a problem with the company, and I’m beside myself right now at being angry at Uber. … I don’t want to go cite another driver. I want to hear directly from Uber.”

See here for some background. KUHF reports that the city is trying to figure out a way it can sanction Uber for its background check failures. Good luck with that.

I want to be clear here that I don’t believe that having a past conviction should necessarily be a disqualifier for would be Uber or Lyft drivers. Not all convictions represent a risk to a passenger’s safety, and I believe people deserve second chances. But any background check system worth doing should be able to discover these things. It is an issue if someone lies about their past, and we should be able to find those people out. This should not be controversial.

If the Lege insists on getting involved with the relationship between TNCs and cities, then let them set these requirements.


House Bill 2440 by state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, would grant statewide operating permits to companies like Uber and Lyft if they comply with certain regulations and pay an annual $115,000 fee. The companies use smartphone apps to connect people seeking a ride with freelance drivers using their own vehicles.

Paddie wrote on Facebook last month that his bill is about “free market principles” and would “allow innovative technology companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate under predictable, sensible statewide regulations.”


At a hearing before the House Transportation Committee on Thursday, Uber spokeswoman Sally Kay said fingerprint scans were inefficient and that Uber’s background checks were more thorough than the safety measures many cities have called for.

“This isn’t about cost,” she said. “This is about the fact that if we relied on the way many municipalities run their background checks, it wouldn’t be strong enough for us.”


On Thursday, state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, pressed Kay about how Burton slipped through the cracks.

“Did your background check find that this driver was on probation currently?” Phillips asked.

Kay said Uber is investigating the incident and she couldn’t comment. She also said Uber checks applicants for criminal activity within the past seven years, except for sexual offenses.

“That’s not really good enough for me,” Phillips said.

Nor should it be. It’s more than a little ridiculous for Uber to claim that their background checks are more thorough than what cities have called for, given what we’ve seen. The burden of proof for this is on them. Trail Blazers has more.

Do we need a statewide solution for Uber and Lyft?

Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business thinks so.


Fans of apps like Uber and Lyft may find that the rules governing their operations in one city differ dramatically from those in a community down the street or across the state. That not only creates unnecessary confusion for consumers and drivers who use the apps but also chills and complicates efforts to bring this new technology — or other similar innovations or services — to more Texans across the state. And in some instances, it has forced these companies to cease operations in cities where they were already providing safe rides.

I’ve long been a proponent of forging compromise and pioneering solutions for many of our state’s most vexing problems, and congested roadways are clearly high on that list. Transportation network companies are an important part of a larger effort to reform and transform the state’s transportation system.

That’s why it’s time we brought clarity and consistency to regulations governing these new technologies.


Texas boasts a long-running tradition of embracing public policy that encourages competition, increases consumer choice and expands economic opportunity. House Bill 2440 is consistent with this successful Texas model.


HB 2440 is a way for Texans’ locally elected state lawmakers to ensure that consistent, reasonable requirements and local concerns governing the technology are established and applied statewide.

We should embrace policy that creates clear standards for insurance and ensures that all current and future transportation network technologies fully protect drivers and riders. Background check requirements are extensive and clearly defined in the proposed legislation as well.

I noted HB2440 before, and wasn’t a fan of it then. I still think it should be within the discretion of cities to regulate transportation network companies as they see fit. That said, if this bill or another like it were to clarify some of the thorny insurance questions that have made the process of writing local ordinances that much harder, I’d support that. I get the urge to deal with this in the Legislature, but let’s take a more minimal approach first. Surely someone like Bill Hammond can appreciate that.

Or the Lege could maybe take up the issue of what constitutes minimal safety regulations, since stories like this don’t do much to enhance Uber’s reputation.

Duncan Eric Burton would not have been eligible for a city-issued permit to drive for Uber, a city official said Tuesday, because he had left prison less than three years earlier after serving 14 years on a felony drug charge.

But Burton, like an unspecified number of other drivers for the smartphone-app ride-sharing service, was working without a permit in January, when he allegedly sexually assaulted a passenger.

And Uber’s background check, which he passed, didn’t flag his federal conviction because it occurred more than seven years before he applied to drive for Uber; the company limits background checks for all crimes other than sex offenses to seven years.

The disclosure of Burton’s criminal record just a few days after he was charged with sexually assaulting a drunken passenger raised new questions about the company’s procedures and the city’s capacity to enforce regulations intended to ensure passengers’ safety.

The conviction here was for drug trafficking, not a sex crime, so one can’t really say that this driver was any more of a risk to passengers than anyone else. On the other hand, a “background check” that fails to reveal a 14-year stint in the federal clink doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. You may recall that Lyft left Houston rather than comply with the city-mandated background checks. More recently, Uber’s contention that San Antonio’s background check requirements were too onerous was one reason why they abandoned that city. I’m thinking this is a statement they’d like to have back.

The regulations adopted in December would have required drivers to pass a city-reviewed criminal background check, including fingerprinting, before getting a permit. The proposed changes would have allowed drivers to start operating once they pass the company’s background check, but still required them to pass the city background check within 14 days to get a full permit.

[Chris Nakutis, Uber’s general manager for Texas] said Uber partners with a third party to conduct background checks on people applying to become drivers and that it checks sex-offender registries and criminal databases. That should be sufficient, Nakutis contended.

Yeah, maybe not. And once again, we cannot escape the local control implications.

The idea that it’s in the public’s best interest to have the ability to regulate companies like Uber stripped from municipalities is one that’s hard to fully justify. This business model is a relatively new one, and it’s unclear as of yet what the long-term impact on the transportation infrastructure will turn out to be. It’s possible that Uber and Lyft are the future, and even if they do drive the cab companies out of business, no one will miss them. It’s also possible that there may be an unforeseen impact on the market that would be best managed by an entity that’s more active than the part-time body that is the Texas Legislature.

Furthermore, it’s hard to say that what’s right for Abilene, when it comes to maintaining a regulatory framework for new, technology-based companies, is what’s right for San Antonio. The city government out by the Alamo may be in the pocket of Big Taxi, but if one city wants to take a slow, measured approach to dealing with massively disruptive business models, while others are more keen to embrace them wholeheartedly, it’s hard to see why exactly the Legislature needs to put a stop to that.

In other words, we’re very much in the experimental phase when it comes to Uber, Lyft, etc. It seems to make sense for those experiments to be confined to lower-stakes situations (i.e., one city rather than all of them), flexible regulatory bodies (i.e., a full-time city council rather than a legislature that meets for just a few months every other year), and a multitude of approaches to regulation to see what might be most effective, rather than rushing to a plan that the companies being regulated endorse so strongly that they’re suggesting their customers co-sign, or risk Uber leaving the state of Texas for good.

The contrast between the demand for “states’ rights” and the push to subjugate cities to the will of the state government would be funny if it weren’t so infuriating. We’ll see if this approach, which as the Texas Monthly post notes includes a petition effort by Uber, gets anywhere.

Uber’s lobbying efforts

Cry havoc, and let slip the lobbyists of, um, lobbying!


After spending months securing a spot on Houston’s roadways, Uber is stepping on the gas in Austin: hiring at least 23 lobbyists and paying them as much as $700,000 to make sure its on-demand ride service gets favorable treatment in the Legislature, according to records with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Uber is the boldest among ride-on-demand competitors that include Lyft and Sidecar, companies selling not only rides but a lifestyle that is heavily online dependent with a willingness to cast off conventions. The company is fighting lawsuits and cease-and-desist orders, piling up fines and exasperating officials as it trumpets a new business model and the so-called sharing economy.

Yet, the app-based companies also are embracing the old-school model of pressure politics and armies of lobbyists. Alongside Uber’s army of lobbyists, Lyft reported four lobbyists on board, committing up to $260,000 for their services.

“We need a lot of bodies to assure that we’reteaching people aboutthe sharing economy as quickly as possible” said Chris Nakutis, Uber’s general manager in Texas and chief strategist in several states.

Uber threatened to pull out of Houston last fall but ultimately complied with city-required procedure such as background checks for drivers. Lyft, however, suspended operations in November in Houston citing regulations that “essentially treat Lyft like a taxi.”

Now Uber is threatening to pull out of San Antonio if the city enforces its new vehicle-for-hire ordinances. Mayor Ivy Taylor declared at least a temporary retreat last week.

The tactic is one of the most extreme from the company’s pressure-politics playbook, as at least 19 states are considering legislation related to operations of the new transportation network companies. Uber, Lyft or both have contracted lobbyists in most of those states, records show.


In Tampa, two county commissioners seeking rules for new hired-car services became the target of an Uber mass mailing last year featuring a forlorn fellow on the street and this message: “Don’t let politicians and special interests leave you sitting on the curb.”

The commissioners still won re-election and last month joined colleagues on the Hillsborough County Commission in a vote to seek an injunction to shut down Uber and Lyft, which continue to defy a cease-and-desist order.

“They have completely ignored us. They feel like they don’t fall under anybody’s regulations,” complained Kyle Cockream, executive director of the county’s transportation commission and a former police captain who has pressed for more stringent background checks. “This is happening across Florida and in every corner of the country.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has refused to issue tickets to drivers, putting him at odds with the county.

In Eugene, Ore., where Uber has refused to comply with licensing and other requirements, the city began issuing $2,000 a-day fines since December.

In Orlando, new rules covering the app-based services went into effect Feb. 1 despite efforts to dissuade Mayor Buddy Dyer by Uber’s powerhouse Washington lobbying group, an alliance that also represents Facebook and Google.

Good to know that Uber’s respect for the rule of law and the political process remains the same wherever they go. I don’t believe I had heard about Uber contemplating an exit from Houston as Lyft did after our vehicles for hire ordinance was passed. They were certainly all in once the permit process began. I’ve been critical of of San Antonio for the way they handled their vehicles for hire update, and I have long believed that cities should find a way to accommodate these new entrants in the market, but that doesn’t change my negative feelings about Uber the company. Until and unless they change how they do business – and fire a few of the people that are repeat bad actors – I have no plans to ever download their app. (There are other issues of concern as well; perhaps they’re hoping to fend off any bills that would forbid or restrict their “surge pricing” model.)

Be that as it may, when I read this story I wished it had been written by a Texas writer, because I’d love to know what Uber and Lyft’s specific goals for this legislative session are. On Friday, I received an answer to that question.


An East Texas lawmaker has filed a bill that would undo efforts by several cities to regulate vehicle-for-hire apps Uber and Lyft and transfer regulation of the services to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

House Bill 2440 from state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, would grant firms like Uber and Lyft statewide operating permits if they pay an annual $5,000 fee and follow various rules. In some cases, such as background checks conducted on drivers, Paddie’s bill would be less rigorous than ordinances approved in some Texas cities.

Paddie described his proposal as allowing “innovative technology companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate under predictable, sensible statewide regulations.”

“As Republicans, we talk a lot about free market principles,” Paddie wrote Friday on Facebook. “This bill enacts those principles and will ultimately empower you, the consumer.”


“We applaud Rep. Paddie for introducing a statewide bill that protects riders, increases transportation options, expands economic opportunity and ensures Uber has a permanent home in Texas,” Uber spokeswoman Debbee Hancock said.

Given the antipathy to local control on display so far, this should not come as a surprise. You know that I disapprove of the San Antonio vehicles for hire ordinance that has made Uber and Lyft leave town, but I think if that’s what the San Antonio City Council wants to do, it’s within their discretion to do so. The voters there will get to register their opinion on the matter in a few weeks. The capacity of Republicans in Austin to kick dirt on local control continues to amaze me. We’ll see what comes of this.