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Ride-hailing company Uber says it will be forced to pull out of Kansas if the governor signs a bill increasing regulations on its drivers.
The dispute over the bill, which passed both chambers Thursday, has grown increasingly acrimonious as a deluge of protest emails from the company’s users temporarily disabled the Legislature’s email server.
Republican Rep. Scott Schwab, who led the work to amend the bill at the conference committee stage, said he was irritated with Uber’s tactics and accused its representatives of lying to him during the process.
“The frustration I’ve had dealing with Uber, which I’ve been — my analogy is that it’s like trying to paint an ice cube, nothing sticks to them,” Schwab said.
Uber connects drivers to riders through a mobile app and announced in March that it had reached an agreement with several national insurance companies on a policy framework that would fill in gaps in the network’s driver insurance coverage. It has proposed model legislation to the states to make it official.
The model proposal provides liability insurance throughout the period that Uber drivers are using the app, but it “intentionally excludes additional coverage options such as collision and comprehensive insurance,” according to a study released Monday by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
The Kansas bill would require some drivers for Uber and other ride-hailing companies to provide proof of those types of broader insurance, and would also require them to undergo background checks through the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Uber spokeswoman Lauren Altmin said that both requirements are onerous for Uber because it is primarily a technology company providing the platform for riders and drivers to connect and shouldn’t be expected to bear the same responsibility as taxi companies.
The company urged Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to veto the bill in a statement Thursday, saying it would “destroy thousands of Kansas jobs by making it impossible for Uber to continue operations in the state.”
Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said the governor has not yet reviewed the bill and declined to speculate on what action he would take.
Five states have already passed legislation regulating companies like Uber, and 35 others have measures pending.
Many issues drive constituents to email their legislators en masse, but Terri Clark, the Kansas Legislature’s director of technical services, said the barrage of emails that the system began receiving Monday on the Uber bill was unprecedented.
Clark said Uber prompted its app users with an option to send a letter protesting the bill to the Legislature. Through a button on the app and the company’s blog, users were able to send an instant “shotgun email” to all of the state’s 165 legislators, Clark said.
By Tuesday, the mass of simultaneous emails had slowed the Legislature’s server to the point of inoperability.
Several lawmakers expressed annoyance with the emails and the slowdown, particularly because it disrupted their ability to obtain documents during the Legislature’s busy week before its annual spring break.
Schwab apologized to the House ahead of its vote on the bill saying lawmakers were unfairly treated by those campaigning against it. In the end, the House passed the bill 107-16 and the Senate’s vote was 35-2.
“They’ve written the book on how not to ask for things from the Kansas Legislature,” Schwab said.