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House Democrats disavow ride-hailing bill after addition of “sex” amendment

A group of House members removed their names as co-authors of a bill that would regulate ride-hailing companies because of an amendment that defines “sex” as the “physical condition of being male or female.”

State Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, reacts to comments from Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, during debate on House Bill 100 on April 19, 2017. The bill seeks state-level regulation of transportation network companies.

Several members of the Texas House have removed their names as co-authors of a bill that would regulate ride-hailing companies after the addition of an amendment that defines “sex” as the “physical condition of being male or female.”

The amendment passed with a 90-52 vote Wednesday after House Bill 100’s author, Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, accepted the amendment, saying he views it as “further defining something that’s already defined.”

But soon after, Democrats started pulling their support, saying the bill opened the door for discrimination against LGBT Texans. That issue has permeated the legislative session since Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick prioritized a “bathroom bill” that would require transgender people to use the restroom in some places that matches their "biological sex."

"I refuse to support any legislation that has any kind of discriminatory language included,” said state Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio. The amendment "was unnecessary and it resulted in my decision to pull my name from the list of co-authors and vote against the bill."

Minjarez was joined by state Reps. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio; César Blanco, D-El Paso; Pat Fallon, R-Frisco; Mike Lang, R-Granbury; Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving; and Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, who all removed their names as co-authors of the legislation. Not all removed their names over the "sex" amendment. 

“Unfortunately, you’re going to have Democrats not supporting good legislation because of some of this ideology,” Blanco said.

Their actions were largely symbolic; the bill passed on its third and final reading Thursday in a 111-35 vote.

After Wednesday’s preliminary vote on the bill, state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, told The Texas Tribune the amendment that he and Republican Rep. Briscoe Cain of Deer Park added was aimed at providing “clarification” of the term "sex" in the anti-discrimination clause of the bill, which says drivers of transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft can’t discriminate against passengers on the basis of race, color or sex, among other things.

“The bottom line is there’s no huge reason behind it. I just wanted to clarify,” Tinderholt said, pushing back against claims that his amendment could lead to discrimination against the LGBT community. “The amendment was simply for clarification. It's really, truly that simple.”

HB 100 would establish a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies and undo local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models. Cities enacting such rules say those regulations bring a needed layer of security. 

The bill would require ride-hailing companies to have a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation and pay an annual fee to operate throughout the state. It also calls for companies to perform local, state and national criminal background checks on drivers annually — but doesn't require drivers to be fingerprinted, as Austin's ordinance does.

Currently, 41 other states have adopted comprehensive ride-hailing laws similar to Paddie’s proposal. On Wednesday morning, the Florida Legislature also passed a statewide measure.

Neither Uber nor Lyft responded to repeated requests for comment on the amendment.

However, several LGBT advocacy groups condemned the bill after the amendment passed. In a statement, Equality Texas CEO Chuck Smith said the addition of Tinderholt and Cain’s amendment is a “nonsensical definition of sex in an attempt to discriminate against transgender people using ride-hailing apps.”

On the House floor Thursday, Rodriguez said he removed his name from the bill — and voted against it — because he felt the addition of the amendment was discriminatory.

“I know that some of the transportation network companies have their own policies, but I just thought once that amendment got on — as a matter of principle — I just didn’t want my name associated with the bill,” he said.

Bernal echoed Rodriguez's concerns.

“Granted, the amendment could be read a lot of different ways, but at the end of the day we understand the purpose and spirit of that amendment and I have no interest in supporting a bill that has that in there,” Bernal said.

Paddie said the defections from his bill were "unfortunate, and I hate that they felt they needed to do that."

"I certainly understand their position," he said. "While I don't necessarily agree that the amendment really does anything, to be honest with you ... it was providing a definition for something that's already defined."

Paddie said he didn't think the amendment would affect transgender people because "if you're transitioning from a male to a female, you're still one or the other. At the end of the day, certainly there was no intent for it to be discriminatory in any way or target any group of people, so it's unfortunate that perception was created."

Cassi Pollock contributed to this report. 

Read related Tribune coverage: 

  • After a lengthy debate among lawmakers over the best way to regulate services like Uber and Lyft, the Texas House backed a proposal that would override local regulations concerning ride-hailing companies. 
  • A Senate committee heard testimony on three bills that would override local regulations concerning ride-hailing companies.

Disclosure: Uber and Lyft have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

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State government Transportation 85th Legislative Session Chris Paddie Texas Legislature Tony Tinderholt