Uber Regulations Fail in Kansas, Then Company Hires Within State

by | April 28, 2015 AT 10:10 AM

By Bryan Lowry

Ride-share giant Uber has signed several high-profile lobbyists -- including Gov. Sam Brownback's former campaign manager -- to represent it in an expected legislative fight over new regulations for the ride-share industry.

Brownback vetoed a bill that would have imposed stricter insurance regulations and background check requirements for Uber drivers on April 20.

Mark Dugan, who managed Brownback's successful re-election campaign, registered as a lobbyist for Uber on Monday, according to the Kansas Secretary of State's Office.

The governor's office said Dugan played no role in the decision to veto the bill. Dugan did not return a request for comment about his contract with Uber.

The company, which enables customers to hail rides using an app on their smartphones, began the session with lobbyists Matt Hickam and Beka Romm.

As of Monday, it had hired six more lobbyists since the Legislature passed SB 117.

Backers of the bill say they will try to override the veto during the wrap-up session that begins Wednesday.

The bill would have required Uber drivers to undergo background checks conducted by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and certify that they have comprehensive and collision insurance. Lawmakers said the bill was needed for public safety, but Uber threatened to pull out of Kansas if it became law.

Instead, the company expanded into Lawrence, Topeka, Leavenworth and Manhattan three days after Brownback's veto. It already operates in the Wichita and Kansas City metro areas.

Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, said last week that the expansion was proof that the company's threat to pull out of Kansas was hollow. He said the Legislature had a consensus from moderate Republicans, conservative Republicans and Democrats that the bill was a good fix.

Will McCollum, Uber's general manager for Kansas and Colorado, said the newly hired lobbyists show the company's commitment to the Kansas market.

"And hopefully those kinds of actions will back up those kinds of words ... so hopefully we'll be able to get to a situation where there's not an overturn vote," he said. "And come a year from now, we'll be talking about another bill and the market will have had a year to prove itself."

He would not talk about details of the lobbyists' contracts.

The other new Uber lobbyists are Jason Watkins, who also serves as a lobbyist for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce; Watkins' business partner, Scott Schneider; Jonathan Small, the state's former adjutant general and a lobbyist for Koch Industries; Steve Palmer, a lobbyist with Grayling, an international public affairs firm based in Washington, D.C.; and John Bottenberg, a Topeka-based lobbyist with clients that include AT&T, Westar and the Kansas Speedway Corp.

"Uber's very excited about doing business in Kansas, but they also have to have a regulatory environment that doesn't hinder their business model," Watkins said in a phone call. "They're obviously making a sizable investment in Kansas markets and, in order to protect that regulatory market, I think they're reaching out to a lot of different lobbyists."

(c)2015 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)