By Mary Spicuzza
Late Friday night, Gov. Scott Walker announced that he signed a bill into law that creates statewide standards for rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft.
The move came after a group of Democrats called on Walker to veto the legislation, saying it didn't do enough to regulate such services in the wake of recent reports in Madison of unwanted sexual contact by Uber drivers.
But Walker said the law would help provide safe, affordable transportation options for Wisconsinites.
"This bill's broad, bipartisan support in the State Legislature highlights the importance of providing affordable transportation options for all our citizens while maintaining strict safety measures," Walker said in a statement. "I have also directed the Department of Safety and Professional Services to immediately begin the rule-making process, which will allow the Department to gather the information to hold drivers accountable and further ensure the safety of our citizens."
The measure passed both the GOP-controlled Assembly and Senate on bipartisan votes last month.
The new law prohibits any local ordinances governing rideshare or ride-hailing companies. Instead, the companies will be required to purchase a $5,000 state license, conduct driver background checks and also maintain liability insurance. And the law says drivers cannot discriminate against passengers based on their race, religion, sex or disability.
Under the new law, ridesharing or "transportation network companies" (TNCs) must be licensed by the state Department of Safety and Professional Services. The measure says such companies are required to conduct local and national background checks, and it prohibits the employment of sex offenders, habitual traffic offenders, and people with drunken driving convictions. The companies will also be required to electronically transmit drivers' photos and license plate numbers to passengers.
Local governments would be unable to regulate rideshare companies at all, but would be permitted to keep all their same regulations in place on firms such as taxi companies, which would have to compete with much more substantial regulations on them.
There's been some friction between the major cities in Wisconsin and rideshare companies.
The city of Madison filed a complaint in January against Uber seeking tens of thousands of dollars in fines for dozens of violations of the city's taxi services ordinance, including driving passengers without a license. Uber has sought to turn the tables by trying to take the case to federal court.
Supporters say the new regulations will help companies like Uber and Lyft expand around the state and create more affordable transportation options.
But 11 Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to Walker on Tuesday asking the Republican governor to veto the legislation, saying it didn't provide enough regulation and should allow more local oversight of the companies.
The letter cited two Madison women who reported incidents of unwanted sexual contact last weekend involving Uber drivers. It added that the Madison Police Department had asked Uber for information about the drivers in both incidents, but the company refused to provide any, saying it couldn't provide it without a warrant or subpeona.
The measure's lead sponsors were state Rep. Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) and state Sen. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee).
(c)2015 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel