by Katie Kull, The Associated Press, January 16, 2017
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft are hoping to expand services to Missouri customers under proposed statewide regulations for the app-based companies.
Legislators are taking another crack at a proposal that would require a yearly $5,000 registration fee, local and national driver background checks, vehicle inspections, and exempt such companies from local or municipal taxes. A similar bill stalled last year in the Senate.
Proponents hope regulations will bring jobs to people looking for employment as "private contractors" who can make their own hours. Critics argue that the regulations don't go far enough to ensure passenger safety, saying driver insurance requirements are too lax and the background checks aren't sufficient. Some lawmakers are concerned about the loss of revenue from the tax exemptions.
Uber currently operates in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia and Springfield. Lyft doesn't operate in Missouri after a 2014 lawsuit with the St. Louis Taxi Commission.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Kirk Mathews, said current municipal regulations are creating a "barrier to entry" for rideshare companies. For example, someone picked up in Springfield and dropped off in Joplin can't get a ride back because Joplin doesn't have Uber or Lyft.
House Speaker Todd Richardson called the bill a "priority" on the first day of the session. By the end of the first full week, the proposal had passed through two committees.
Uber has promised up to 10,000 new jobs in the first year, and Lyft said in an emailed statement that it will start operating in Missouri if the regulations pass.
Even with regulations, the entire state won't automatically open up for Uber users. However, it will be easier for the company to expand operations, Uber spokesman Bobby Kellman said.
With a projected budget deficit of more than $40 million for this fiscal year, some lawmakers say the exemption from local and state taxes could deprive the state of much-needed revenue.
Rep. Rory Rowland, who spoke out against the last version of the bill on the House floor, said the continued tax exemptions gave him "heartburn."
Even after having to cut state programs, he said, "It's just occasion after occasion after occasion of giving these tax exemptions to companies."
One change to this year's version of the rideshare bill allows Kansas City the ability to conduct a random audit of drivers up to twice a year. The rideshare company would have to pay up to $5,000 for the audit and an additional $500 fine for any violations.
The amendment was an attempt to remedy a sticking point with the bill last year. Kansas City representatives said the statewide regulations didn't do enough to hold the rideshare companies accountable.
"In the past, the TNC companies have fought any effort to have fought the minutest amount of outside oversight," Rep. Jack Bondon said before a committee vote. He went on to add, "In this latest version of the bill, I am relieved to see that the TNC companies have given in on their longstanding resistance to outside municipal oversight."
This story corrects the spelling of House Speaker Todd Richardson in sixth paragraph and Rep. Jack Bondon in the last paragraph.
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