State Overreach on the "Uber" Bill
March 24, 2017
Dear Friends and Neighbors,

This week the Senate passed SB14, statewide legislation to regulate transportation network companies (TNCs) – popularly called the “Uber bill.”

Initially I was very enthusiastic about this bill.  "Uber’s" idea is very clever, useful to drivers and riders, and a great convenience, but as I learned more I understood how problematic the bill is.

The Alaska Municipal League raises these issues about the bill:

  • It “…erodes Section 10 of the State Constitution calling for “maximum local self-governance.” 
  • It “represents a radical departure from long standing precedent to honor local option when adopting legislation so important to local governance.
  • It overrides local sales taxing authority burdening local governments to pay for the infrastructure for these companies.
  • It fails to regulate the industry. “Alaska has over 140 boards and commissions that regulate everyone from hairdressers to massage therapists.” But TNCs would not be regulated.

Anchorage, for example, has just passed a transportation network bill allowing “Uber” and others to operate under Anchorage terms.  This is the way our Constitution supports local control. SB 14 voids Anchorage's new ordinance. 

Senate Democrats offered amendments addressing:
  • State Overreach:   Allow local governments to regulate this industry in their communities.  
  • Public Safety:  Require fingerprints for background checks, reducing the risk of name confusion and clearing a driver who has a serious criminal record which should make him/her ineligible for approval.  Others states have found that approved "Uber" drivers have included convicted murders and sex offenders.  I am pleased that one of my amendments denying the use of drivers previously convicted of serious crimes like murder, rape, assault, etc., was passed unanimously!  Another amendment denying approval of a driver listed on the national sex offender website was also passed, unanimously.
  • Workers Compensation and Fair Employment Terms:  When "Uber" was operating in Anchorage they were accused of failing to comply with Alaska labor laws.  Their solution has been to persuade the legislature to exempt them from the worker protections we require of others.  I am very suspicious of any company that requires Alaska state laws to bend to them in order to conduct business here, especially when they operate in other states where labor laws are enforced.
I love the idea of "Uber" and I know that many Alaskans and tourists are eager to see such companies operate here.  We have a need for additional transportation services and this is a convenient and cost effective approach but I cannot support the failures of denying local governments the right to regulate ride-share programs, denial of fingerprint checks of drivers, denial of basic worker protections, and refusal to provide any mechanism for the kind of oversight we demand of hairdressers, nail technicians, home care attendants, etc.

It is our job, as legislators, to be thorough and careful with regard to all legislation under consideration.  Just because we want these companies to be here, doesn’t mean we have to allow them to call all the shots and change the ways we work to protect the interests of Alaskans.  I was a no vote on the bill.

I'm Berta and I'm Listening,