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Senate revives House version of ride-hailing bill, keeping “sex” amendment alive

A bill meant to regulate ride-hailing companies has now made its way to the Senate — and senators have revived controversial language that would define "sex" as "the physical condition of being male or female.”

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, at a Business and Commerce Committee hearing on March 9, 2017.

After being stripped from a ride-hailing bill, a controversial amendment that would have defined "sex" as "the physical condition of being male or female" was back Thursday after a Senate committee revived the original version of the bill.

The bill's Senate sponsor, state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, had introduced a committee substitute that stripped the “sex” amendment and mandated that ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft implement nondiscrimination policies to ensure drivers don't discriminate against riders.

But on Thursday, Schwertner withdrew the substitute without discussion and the Senate State Affairs Committee instead adopted the House version of the bill, a spokesperson for Schwertner’s office said.

The committee approved the lower chamber’s version of House Bill 100 by state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall — with the amendment that defines "sex" — in an 8-1 vote.

“After yesterday's hearing, several senators expressed a desire to offer their own changes to HB 100. In the interest of keeping the legislation moving forward, we felt the most appropriate action was to move the original bill to the floor and allow the senators the opportunity to offer their own thoughts on the legislation and ultimately build consensus around a statewide ridesharing policy that works for Texas,” Schwertner spokesperson Thomas Holloway said.

The bill needs final approval from the Senate before it can reach the governor’s desk.

“This legislation is really about establishing the kind of fair and consistent framework for ridesharing services that will allow Texans to travel more easily and get home safely,” Schwertner said Thursday. “As the Senate works to build consensus around HB 100, we continue to evaluate a number of changes that we hope will ultimately improve the bill and increase its chances of becoming law.”

The “sex” amendment proposed by state Reps. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, and Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, comes amid a legislative session in which some GOP lawmakers have pushed for measures that would keep transgender Texans from using public bathrooms that match their gender identities.

The amendment passed in the House last month on a 90-52 vote without objection from Paddie, who said he viewed it as simply “further defining something that’s already defined.” Tinderholt, pushing back against claims that his amendment could lead to discrimination against the LGBT community, said “there’s no huge reason behind it. I just wanted to clarify.”

Uber and Lyft, the companies that have pushed for the legislation, objected to the amendment, and several House Democrats took their names off the bill after the amendment passed.

“We are disappointed that this unnecessary amendment is still included in legislation focused on adopting a consistent statewide framework for ridesharing,” Uber spokesperson Travis Considine said Friday. “Uber’s comprehensive national non-discrimination policy will not change.”

“The amendment is unnecessary as Lyft's strong non-discrimination policy remains in effect no matter what local or state statutes exist,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison said.

Neither Considine nor Harrison said their respective companies would pull back support of the bill over the amendment.

DeAnne Cuellar, a spokeswoman for Equality Texas, which had asked Uber and Lyft to disavow the bill because of the amendment, called it "a nonsensical definition of sex that has no impact on the inclusive nondiscrimination policies of Uber and Lyft."

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. The primary issue is whether companies such as Uber and Lyft should perform fingerprint-based background checks, much like many cities require of taxi drivers.

HB 100 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.

After Austin implemented such a rule, Uber and Lyft spent millions in a campaign last year to overturn it — an effort that ultimately failed when voters rejected a ballot proposition on the issue. After the vote, both companies immediately suspended services in the city, and the resulting ride-hailing vacuum attracted several start-up ride-hailing apps to Austin that have said they comply with the city's rules.

Currently, 41 other states have adopted comprehensive ride-hailing laws similar to Paddie’s proposal. The Florida Legislature also passed a statewide measure in mid-April.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The Senate sponsor of a bill meant to create statewide regulations for ride-hailing companies said Thursday he had stripped a controversial amendment that would define "sex" as "the physical condition of being male or female.”

  • Representatives for Uber and Lyft said an amendment to a statewide ride-hailing bill that defines "sex" as "the physical condition of being male or female" is disappointing and unnecessary.

  • 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.”

  • 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 is available here.

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