Approved rideshare bill pits local government against state Legislature

A bill to provide statewide regulations for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft would create consumer protections for their customers, according to state Rep. Tyler August (right), R-Lake Geneva.

Image By: Thomas Yonash

The state Assembly approved a bill Tuesday that would regulate rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft at the state level, paving the way for expansion of those services.

The bill would require the companies to carry $1 million in liability insurance, pay a licensing fee every two years and conduct background checks on drivers.

State Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, who authored the bill, said the legislation would allow the popular smartphone services to operate across the state and would reduce burdensome local restrictions.

“[The bill] encourages companies to move here and, by setting statewide standards, there is certainty for these companies,” August said in a press conference Tuesday.

The bill would supersede local laws that strictly regulate or ban the services. The Madison City Council passed an ordinance March 31 that would stringently oversee the companies, just days after the state Legislature announced it would take up the issue.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has been a longtime critic of rideshare companies, saying in an April 2014 blog post Uber and Lyft “refuse to meet” local safety standards. A group opposed to the expansion of rideshare companies also endorsed Soglin in his successful re-election campaign.

While he was not on the City Council to vote on the ordinance, newly elected Ald. Zach Wood, District 8, said local officials could have lost “its own shot” at regulating the companies.

“I understand why people have concerns … but Madison may have rejected its own shot at local control [over ridesharing services],” Wood said. “[The state law] looks like it could be construed as retribution [for action taken by Madison and Milwaukee city governments].”

Lawmakers opposed to the bill criticized what they said were lax restrictions and a disregard for local legislative authority.

“We should have respect for our local governments so that these companies don’t explode our markets and put local companies out of business,” state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said in floor debate. “There aren’t independent background checks, there isn’t even a check on the vehicle.”

While Wood sees the Assembly’s actions as overstepping its bounds, he also predicted an increase in use of the services, especially among UW-Madison students.

“I’m an advocate of local control and its disappointing to see the state preempt us,” Wood said. “But there are a fair number of students using this app and I imagine there is a market.”

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