A bill to set statewide rules for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services advanced within one step of final passage in the Florida House Tuesday without a passenger it picked up last year — required fingerprint-level background checks for drivers.
It was an outcome big ride services wanted, requiring them to make few changes in what they already do. Differences still remain with the Senate version working its way through committees, however. The Senate requires more insurance coverage and grants local governments control over issues besides insurance — like background checks.
By voice vote, the House rejected an amendment to HB 509 to require fingerprint background checks for drivers. That was a measure the chamber adopted by amendment last year, a bump in the legislation’s ride that eventually ended with no bill passing at all.
As opposed to a “name check,” a fingerprint check helps detect fake names and scours FBI and state databases, supporters said.
“I just don’t feel we should compromise the level of public safety we’ve already established” for other roles including teachers, coaches and bus drivers, said Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-St. Petersburg.
Other lawmakers pointed out not all taxi drivers are required to have fingerprint checks in many parts of Florida.
Bill sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, cited studies backing as “more effective” the annual checks his bill requires across multiple jurisdictions including a sex-offender registry — not unlike what Uber and Lyft already perform. Gaetz argued Florida should encourage innovative companies and not overload them with regulations.
Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, said he had voted for the fingerprint check last year but a constituent came to him with concerns fingerprint-level checks could expose arrests but not convictions. That could unduly hamper some drivers in minority communities and elsewhere from finding work, he said.
Peters said that should not be an issue because arrests without convictions can come up with both kinds of checks. Still, the amendment failed this time around, as did attempts to limit “surge pricing” after hurricanes or other emergencies.
An Uber spokesman had no immediate comment.
Taxi drivers, concerned about a variety of regulations they say are tougher for them than ride-service rivals, said they were not surprised.
“I understand why Uber doesn’t want fingerprint checks because they can’t survive without rapid onboarding of new drivers,” said Jennifer Condie, a West Palm Beach cab driver.