Lawmakers OK ride-hailing regulations, voter ID bills

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — Uber and other ride-hailing services could legally operate in Michigan under a statewide regulatory framework endorsed last Thursday by state lawmakers, who also began advancing stricter voter ID legislation and considering contentious municipal retiree health care changes in the final weeks of the two-year term.

The amended Uber bills — which were approved overwhelmingly by the Senate and are poised for final passage 1½ years after the House passed them — would create uniform rules and licensing fees for ride-hailing, taxi and limo companies, and pre-empt most local regulations. The businesses would have to conduct annual background checks on drivers and review applicants’ driving history.

People could not become drivers if they have too many traffic violations, a recent felony conviction, are a sex offender or are under age 19. Yearly vehicle safety inspections would be required.

Senators rejected an amendment that would have required fingerprint background checks, which have been fought by Uber and Lyft.

The amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, represents Kalamazoo — where an Uber driver was charged with killing six people during a February shooting rampage. In 2013, the state sent Uber a cease and desist order alleging it was violating the law, but the San Francisco-based business has continued to operate in Michigan and has grown in popularity.

“Part of it is just to make sure there’s a level playing field for everybody. The traditional taxicab companies had a pretty fair point that they were paying a lot of fees to local governments that Uber wasn’t paying,” said Sen. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights.

Uber supports state regulations as opposed to a patchwork of rules that vary by municipality.

“They were operating for years outside the legal requirements,” Rocca said. “It was important to have them operating within the law.”

San Francisco-based Lyft urged final approval of the “common-sense framework.”

The vote came in the Republican-controlled Legislature’s postelection “lame-duck” session, the final chance for bills to be enacted before a new session begins in January. The House, on a mostly party-line vote, gave final approval to a Senate bill that would block local governments’ efforts to rid communities of plastic shopping bags. Washtenaw County commissioners this year approved a 10-cent fee on disposable bags and are waiting until 2017 to enforce it.

Also last Thursday, the House Elections Committee voted along party lines to change the procedure for voters who do not show photo identification at their polling place.

Voters without an ID currently must sign a brief affidavit before voting, and their vote is counted on Election Night. Under the legislation, they could cast a provisional ballot but would have to visit the local clerk’s office no later than 10 days after the election to ensure their ballot is counted.

They would have to present a photo ID with their current address or other documentation establishing their residency and an affidavit that they are the same person who cast the ballot. They may also attest an inability to get a photo ID due to indigence or a religious objection to being photographed.

House Elections Chairwoman Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, said the bills are based on an Indiana law that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and her legislation would provide for free IDs so low-income people would not be burdened.

“That vote should not count until they prove they are who they say they are,” Lyons said.

Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, said the bill — which is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, homeless advocates and others — would “disenfranchise people who are legally allowed to vote.”

Also last Thursday, the House Local Government Committee began hearing testimony on new bills that would curb the cost of providing health care to retired municipal workers and prohibit the benefits from being a subject in future labor contracts. Municipalities that are not funding at least 80 percent of their retiree health liabilities would be barred from covering more than 80 percent of the annual cost of retirement health benefits.

Newly hired municipal employees could not qualify for health coverage in retirement, except in the form of an employer’s contribution to a tax-deferred account.

“Let’s do something proactively now to save the programs, to make sure that they one day get to a place of full funding so that we don’t have these situations of benefits being taken away in a very drastic form,” said House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant.

Democrats vowed to vigorously oppose the legislation.

“It’s discouraging to keep taking things away from seniors who are already retired, and to go back on an obligation made to workers who often put their lives on the line for us,” said Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint.

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