State House resumes debate over regulating Uber-type taxi service
By David Pendered
The issue of regulating Uber-type taxi service in Georgia is to arise again today in the state Legislature.
A study committee formed by the state House is to convene its first meeting to consider the topic of “for-hire transportation services.” The House formed the committee following the controversy surrounding a proposal that would have regulated Uber, Lyft and other app-based taxi services.
The agenda for today’s 2 p.m. meeting states only that: “The initial meeting will be an organizational meeting to discuss how the study committee came about and how the committee will move forward.”
Any forward movement must occur swiftly if the committee is to issue any recommendations for legislation to be introduced for the legislative session that begins Jan. 12, 2015
The committee is to stand abolished on Dec. 1, according to the measure that created it, House Resolution 1805.
State Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) was the first sponsor of HR 1805 and also the proposal to regulate the app-based taxi industry, House Bill 907. Powell chairs the study committee.
Uber responded to HB 907 by hiring influential lobbyists including Lewis Massey, a former secretary of state, and Bruce Bowers, the son of a former state attorney general who brings experience gained through his role as senior advisor on the transition team of Sonny Perdue after Perdue’s election in 2000. Both remain registered as Uber lobbyists with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finace Commission.
During the debate over HB 907, Powell was often characterized in media reports as acting to protect the state’s existing taxi cab industry from economic threats posed by Uber, Lyft and other new forms of for-hire transportation.
Powell contended his purpose was to protect the public from unscrupulous operators of for-hire transportation. Powell said the state’s existing for-hire laws do not provide adequate protection from the growing business model based on private citizens driving personal vehicles to transport clients referred by companies such as Uber.
Peachpundit.com published a letter attributed to Powell that describes the motive behind the bill:
- “There has been a lot of information on motive as well as the substance. Technology and innovation is creating a lot of new business models for society’s benefit, such is the case of smart phone app transportation referral.
- “As a legislative veteran, my concern is for the public’s safety. There are some social net-workers who say, ‘What’s the need for background checks for drivers,’ I say, ‘It’s to prevent criminals from doing harm.’ Most law-abiding citizens never worry until a criminal act has happened.”
The legislation states that the committee was formed for the following purpose:
- “WHEREAS, for many years, limousine carriers have been regulated by the state and taxi services have been regulated by local governments; and
- “WHEREAS, recently, other for-hire transportation services have come into this state and are using different business models that do not fit well within either limousine carriers or taxi services in the manner of service delivery, billing and payment, safety regulation, insurance, and other areas which affect the people using such services; and
- “WHEREAS, these new forms of for-hire transportation services create challenges in protecting the traveling public and ensuring the safety of persons using such forms of transportation services; and
- “WHEREAS, these new forms of transportation services also give rise to a reexamination of the manner in which government regulates existing forms of for-hire transportation services and the manner in which sales and use taxes and regulatory fees are collected from such entities; and
- “WHEREAS, in order to determine the best methods by which to ensure the safety of the public, prevent illegal and unsafe practices, regulate such entities, and collect sales and use taxes and other regulatory fees, it would be beneficial to study the current system and emerging business models.”
The committee also is to discuss additional measures to curb drunken driving, such as ignition locks and counseling.