The Republicans had a perfectly fine bill that would put the state in charge of regulating rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, stripping the power from municipalities. But just before the vote, Democrats threatened to pull their support thanks to a weird amendment to the bill's non-discrimination policy that sought to clarify what the word "sex" means.
As the Texas Tribune reported, the Dems' threats were mainly just to send a message, as the bill ultimately passed 111-35. But they maintained that Republican Representative Tony Tinderholt, who filed the amendment, was trying to leave out transgender Texans from the non-discrimination policy with a needless "clarification" echoing the language in the ever-divisive bathroom bill. Tinderholt's amendment says sex means the "physical condition" of being male or female.
“The bottom line is there’s no huge reason behind it. I just wanted to clarify,” Tinderholt told the Tribune. “The amendment was simply for clarification." With or without that amendment, the bill still doesn't include "sexual orientation" in its list of bases on which Uber drivers can't discriminate against passengers.
In any case, with the amendment tacked on, the bill is on its way over to the Senate. If passed, it will require rideshare companies to pay a $5,000 fee to the state each year and prohibit cities from imposing their own regulations on the companies, such as fingerprint background checks, which drove Uber out of Austin. Despite threatening to leave over Houston's fingerprint background check requirements as well, Uber decided to stick around after the city agreed to a compromise, expediting the registration process for drivers and doing away with other regulations that slowed the application process, such as physical exams.
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Uber has long maintained that the fingerprint background check is unnecessary and redundant, given that it requires drivers to undergo its own national background check. Meanwhile, Mayor Sylvester Turner has said the fingerprint check is important for double-checking criminal records and ensuring public safety.
The bill, authored by Republican Representative Chris Paddie, is one of several that were filed in the Lege this session targeting digital rideshare regulation. Making it likely that, once and for all, the fingerprint background beef will be settled.