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Stringent Background Screenings Hitching A Ride On House Uber Bill

The House 'Uber' bill is one step closer to final passage, only now with more stringent background checks in tow.
Scott Schiller via Flickr

The Florida House took up a measure Thursday placing new restrictions on transportation network companies.  You know them—businesses like Uber or Lyft.  The bill is moving forward to its final hearing in the chamber, but some members have tacked on a provision requiring broader background screenings.

The House and Senate are wrangling with how best to manage the growth of companies like Uber.  These new entrants in the transportation market are disrupting existing businesses—and supporters say rightly so—but the companies have come in for more than their fair share of criticism.   Surge pricing during emergencies, targeting journalists, and hiring practices that are both predatory and unsafe are just some of the accusations thrown at Uber.  But still they grow.  And Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) says the services help prevent unsafe driving.

“With more convenience,” Gaetz says, “people are less likely to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, there more likely to take a ride-sharing service.  Best example is in San Francisco.  In San Francisco, after ride sharing was implemented, the occurrences of DUIs went down 50 percent.”

But Gaetz recognizes the critiques and while he wants to encourage growth, he wants to balance it with ensuring public safety.  One part of that is insurance. 

“So when a driver opens the app and is available to receive a request, at that time the 50/100/25 policy kicks in,” Gaetz says

For those of you who aren’t big on insurance, that’s liability coverage for death or bodily injury—$50,000 per individual, $100,000 per incident, and $25,000 in property damage. 

“The moment the rider requests a ride and the driver accepts it,” Gaetz continues, “even before they begin moving at the moment of acceptance, the $1 million commercial policy kicks in and then stays in effect until the trip has concluded.”

Uber already offers $1 million of insurance coverage during a trip, but they don’t cover the time when drivers are ‘on call’.  That means if Gaetz’s bill passes, Uber will have to get more insurance, or limit itself to drivers with adequate personal coverage.  And on the Senate side, liability coverage is even higher—$125,000 per individual, and $250,000 per incident. 

The other part of Gaetz’s proposal has to do with background checks.

“The bill requires a multi-jurisdictional, multi-state sex offender national registry background check that must be performed prior to a driver’s entry to the platform,” Gaetz says.  “It must then be required every other year after that.”

But Rep. Kathleen Peters (R-South Pasadena) says Gaetz doesn’t go far enough.  Gaetz says his proposal is a compromise between what is known as level one and level two background screening.  But Peters argues the legislature should go all the way, and require the more stringent level two background check.

“Just like we do for cab drivers, or even our volunteers that go into our public schools,” Peters says.  “These companies have a long string of allegations of not conducting background checks, leaving their riders at risk of being victimized.”

Level one searches primarily by name, but level two includes finger printing as well.  Peters proposed and passed an amendment for the enhanced screening.  The bill as amended will have to come before the full House once more for final approval.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.