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After Austin's Ride-Hailing Woes, Georgetown Lawmaker Promises a State Solution

Miguel Gutierrez Jr.

Within hours of Austinites voting to keep current ride-hailing company regulations, including fingerprint-based background checks, state lawmakers began to debate whether those regulations should be left up to cities or the state.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) says ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft should be regulated by the state.

“Five thousand people in my district – and I do represent a part of Austin – got pink-slips today from Uber and Lyft,” Schwertner said in reference to Uber and Lyft’s self-mandated departure from Austin after voters shot down a ballot measure propped-up by the ride-hailing companies.

The measure, known as Proposition 1, was intended to get rid of some new regulations on them that included fingerprint-based background checks, but Austinites voted to keep those rules in place.

Schwertner calls all this a “municipal overreach.” He says these rules are overly aggressive and just bad for business. And that’s why he wants a state law in place.

“I would think that you know an innovative and progressive city would be behind something like that,” he said. “Certainly I think from an economic standpoint – from a competitive-free market standpoint, the state of Texas should behind it.”

Schwertner says about 30 states around the country have laws like this on the books. That’s because there are state interests here—including mobility and public safety issues like drunk driving. But another public safety issue – alleged sexual assaults committed by Uber and Lyft drivers nationwide – prompted action from the City of Austin. Mayor Steve Adler says that’s what he thinks this whole debate was about for most voters.

“I think that people wanted their local leaders to be able to fashion a solution that would help ensure meaningful material safety choices for the people that live here,” he said.

Adler thinks it’s the legislature’s prerogative to write a law creating blanket rules across the state for issues like this, but he warns state lawmakers that it’s good to allow cities to maintain their individual identities and priorities. And Adler says, overall, that hasn’t been bad for business here.

“You know the state needs cities that are different – the same way an investor needs a diversified portfolio – and all the city in our state’s are different. Austin is only 7 percent of the population, but we represent, I understand – about a third of the patents and about half of the venture capital.”

Schwertner's bill will be a second attempt at statewide regulations. A bill was also filed in the 2015 legislative session, but it didn’t go anywhere. The next Legislative session kicks off in January 2017.

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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