The Texas Supreme Court denied a request Monday aiming to rewrite the ballot language for an upcoming referendum that will determine how the city of Austin regulates vehicle-for-hire companies like Uber and Lyft.
The writ of mandamus, filed by an Austin resident on Thursday, asked the Supreme Court to issue an "emergency stay" of the ballot preparation because the language could "mislead Austin voters." The ballot language is scheduled to be locked down by city officials Monday, the same day the high court denied the writ.
"The approved ballot language is purposefully skewed to persuade the public to vote against the proposition," reads the writ, filed by Samantha Phelps, a longtime supporter of Uber. "The states of such gamesmanship are high as the election result will impact hundreds of thousands of Austinites who rely on TNCs for their livelihoods and transportation needs."
The Austin City Council passed an ordinance in December, requiring drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft to undergo fingerprint background checks. Opponents of the measure organized a petition drive, urging the city to adopt an ordinance with lesser restrictions. The petition – drafted by Ridesharing Works, a group largely funded by Uber and Lyft – secured more than 25,000 signatures, forcing the city to adopt the proposed ordinance or put the measure to a vote.
The Council voted in February to send the proposed ordinance to a public vote in addition to approving the ballot language. The approved language asks voters if the original December ordinance should be repealed and replaced with a measure that would prohibit fingerprinting and other elements of the original December ordinance and, "require other regulations for Transportation Network Companies."
Uber has resisted mandatory fingerprint-based background checks in other cities, pulling their operations from Galveston, Midland and Corpus Christi over similar "burdensome regulations." The company has continued to operate in Houston, which requires drivers for vehicle-for-hire companies undergo a fingerprint background check.
Uber did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Disclosure: Uber and Lyft are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.