The vote marked a breakthrough on a controversial issue that has been heavily lobbied in recent years at the state Capitol, where Uber has clashed with the taxi industry at times.
The vote came after a controversial plan for a 25-cent per ride surcharge was dropped. Democrats wanted the surcharge to generate money for the Special Transportation Fund, which is expected to run out of money in the coming years if it is not replenished by tolls, fees, gasoline taxes or other revenue sources.
House Majority Leader Matthew Ritter of Hartford said the 25-cent charge was removed from the bill after opposition Wednesday from Republicans, paving the way for the debate on Thursday.
Unlike Connecticut, Massachusetts currently has a law that was signed last year by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker that includes a 20-cent per ride surcharge that generates money for improving the state’s transportation infrastructure and provides training for taxi drivers. Officials said that 42 states already have ride-hailing laws, and Connecticut would be number 43.
Rep. Sean Scanlon, a Guilford Democrat who serves as co-chairman of the legislature’s insurance committee, described the bill as “a very good step in the right direction” that requires insurance in the same way as traditional taxis.
“This bill represents a good compromise,” Scanlon said.
He said there will be “no discrimination allowed whatsoever,” and drivers must pick up passengers in any neighborhood in the state.
In an undercover maneuver, Scanlon said he signed up to be a driver for Uber several years ago to see if the company would complete a proper background check on him. He said he “intentionally gave incorrect information, and within four days, I was cleared to be a driver.”
The background checks generated a major part of the debate Thursday as some Republicans questioned whether the checks are sufficient. The checks on new applicants will go back seven years, and drivers will be disqualified if they have any convictions during that time for fraud, sexual assault, driving under the influence, and acts of violence and terror.
Since the background check only goes back seven years, Rep. Christie Carpino of Cromwell asked if a person could become a driver after being convicted of a serious crime like kidnapping eight or more years ago. Scanlon replied that the person could become a driver.
“We give people second chances,” Scanlon said.
“I can’t look my constituents or my children in the eye and tell them that I have kept them safe with this background check,” said Carpino, an attorney.
Anyone applying to be a driver will be rejected for having ore than three moving violations in the past three years or had their driver’s license suspended for refusing a breathalyzer test or other chemical analysis. Drivers must also be at least 19 years old, and they will be rejected if they have ever appeared on a sex offender registry, according to the bill.
Rep. Rob Sampson, a Wolcott Republican who serves as ranking member of the insurance committee, asked whether a person who is not lawfully in the United States could become a driver.
“There is nothing that specifically prohibits a non-citizen from becoming a Uber driver,” Scanlon responded.
Sampson said he was concerned that the taxi industry is competing against “a new invention” and “a new industry coming into our state.”
In another provision, any corporation that wants to create a transportation network company, such as Uber or Lyft, would need to pay a fee of $50,000 to the state.
“None of them have ever objected to me about the $50,000 entry fee,” Scanlon said. “While $50,000 sounds like a lot of money … I believe the $50,000 fee is not too high.”
Uber general manager Matthew Powers said the bill was “the product of years of negotiations” with lawmakers.
“It will ensure that Connecticut riders retain access to safe, affordable and reliable transportation and drivers continue to be afforded flexible economic opportunities,” Powers said. “Under the bipartisan leadership of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, and with cooperation from the governor’s office, today’s measure is a piece of legislation that supports the innovations that ridesharing has brought to Connecticut. We hope the Senate passes this important measure, and we look forward to continuing to work with the committee.”
Lyft spokesman Scott Coriell said, “Today, Connecticut took an important step towards ensuring statewide access to safe, reliable, and affordable ridesharing services like Lyft. The benefits of Lyft are clear: increased transportation options, economic opportunities for individuals and communities, and enhanced public safety.”