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Texas Legislature

Top State Senator Threatens Bill To Override Local Rules On Uber, Lyft

Texas Senator Charles Schwertner announced plans to file the bill after Austin voters upheld a city ordinance requiring the fingerprinting of drivers with the ridesharing services. If passed, the bill would nullify a similar rule in Houston.


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the back of a tshirt
Gail Delaughter
A Taxi driver in Houston wears a shirt that reads #PlayByTheRules, directed at rideshare companies.

A leading Republican state senator says he'll file a bill to set Texas-wide regulations for ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft. The bill would override local rules governing those services, such as those in Houston and Austin.

Senator Charles Schwertner announced his intentions just two days after Austin voters rejected Proposition 1. The ballot measure aimed to repeal a city ordinance requiring Uber and Lyft drivers to undergo fingerprint-based background checks.

Schwertner represents Georgetown, a suburb of Austin.

"The aim of the legislation regarding these ride-sharing services is to have a consistent and predictable regulatory framework, which all parties can operate within," he says.

Both Uber and Lyft have suspended service in Austin in the wake of Saturday's vote. The services continue to operate in Austin's suburbs, where the city ordinance does not apply.

Schwertner drew harsh words from opponents of the ballot measure. Dean Rindy, a co-founder of the group Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice, says the Legislature should respect the decision of Austin voters.

"Well, it's typical hypocrisy on the part of some legislators," Rindy says. "They preach local control, local control, until local control offends some corporate interest that's helping to fund them, and they then decide that local control isn't that great an idea."

But Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University's Baker Institute says it's not quite as simple as a power struggle between state and local control.

"Definitely, this is something that comes up whenever the position of the Republican majority in the Legislature differs from that of cities," Jones says, "but a statewide or at least regionwide approach especially makes sense in terms of transportation issues, because when you use Uber, you're often going across city boundaries and county boundaries."

Schwertner's measure wouldn't be the first effort by the Texas Legislature to override city regulations of ride-sharing services. Last year, state Rep. Chris Paddie proposed a similar bill (HB 2440), which was approved by the House Transportation Committee but did not receive a floor vote before the end of the legislative session.

Uber has threatened to leave Houston over its ordinance requiring the fingerprinting of ride-sharing drivers. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued a statement Saturday in support of Austin voters, saying, "The City of Houston will not compromise on public safety either."