Stephen Cooper, attorney for the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association, (left) explains an amendment to a bill from Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, (right) during a committee hearing on May 10, 2023. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.
The Senate judiciary committee voted to send a bill regulating Uber and Lyft to the floor on Wednesday night — with the caveat that they are not recommending its passage.
Committee Chair Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said he’s not sure the bill should become law, or that he would vote for it when it reaches the full Senate.
“I really don’t like passing bills out of this committee that I don’t think are ready to become law… right now, I don’t think this language is ready to become law,” Latz said before voting to push the bill forward.
The bill has been revived in the final days of session after being dormant for weeks, under the prospect that the bill’s author, Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, could hold up funding for the rest of state government.
Latz and his fellow Democrats said they were supportive of the bill’s (SF2319/HF2369) aims to guarantee Uber and Lyft drivers minimum wages, better insurance coverage and protections against being unfairly fired, or “deactivated.” But the way the bill was written raised concerns that transportation network companies, including Uber and Lyft, might be unable to continue operating in Minnesota if the bill is enacted.
More than one Democratic senator stepped in to try to salvage the bill through the day by negotiating last-minute compromises between a drivers association’s attorney and the lobbyists for Uber and Lyft.
“It’s 7:30, I think we should get this in the best shape we can, and I think we should pass this bill,” said Sen. Bonnie Westlin, DFL-Plymouth, after looking at her watch.
That meant wordsmithing new provisions orally for legislative staff to record. At one point the committee debated whether to use the word “address” or “correct” or “respond” in a motion to modify an amendment to an amendment. (“Respond” ultimately prevailed.)
During most of the discussion, Fateh did not speak and instead deferred to Stephen Cooper, the lawyer of the drivers’ advocacy group Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association.
The major changes to the bill included an overhaul of the section detailing what level of insurance the companies need to provide for drivers.
Uber lobbyist Joel Carlson said there isn’t insurance on the market that met the bill’s earlier requirement of providing up to $1 million in medical costs. The bill also required the companies to insure drivers anytime they’re logged into the app — which the companies said would be ripe for abuse since drivers could stay logged in on both apps while driving for personal use.
Democratic Sen. Judy Seeberger, an attorney from Afton, negotiated a compromise that reduces the insurance coverage and limits it to just the time between a driver accepting a fare and completing the trip.
Latz, the committee chair, asked Fateh to promise him — on the record — that he would not try to renegotiate the insurance provisions before the bill is heard on the Senate floor.
Fateh hedged, saying, “What I agree to … right now is, for the purposes of everyone’s time, agree to this now and work on it offline with all stakeholders.”
The response garnered an unusually sharp rebuke from a senator of his own party.
Latz replied: “You want to leave open the ability to continue to quarrel and negotiate over this particular provision for the rest of this legislative session? Is that what you’re trying to say? Because that would not be what you told me offline.”
Fateh eventually agreed not to renegotiate the insurance provision before the end of session.
Another provision Uber and Lyft lobbyists said would be unworkable is the requirement that the companies reinstate drivers who have been deactivated since 2019. The companies say that could force them to reinstate drivers who have credible allegations against them for assault or other serious misconduct. Keeping problem drivers off the app would require tracking down victims from years ago, which may not be possible, Carlson said.
The committee removed the requirement that companies reinstate drivers from the previous four years, but added language that drivers who had been deactivated may reapply. If their applications are denied, the companies must provide drivers with the reason and give an opportunity to respond.
The committee didn’t renegotiate minimum wages, which the companies still adamantly oppose.
The bill sets minimum compensation rates of at least $1.85 per mile and $0.25 per minute while drivers are transporting passengers and $1.25 per mile and $0.10 per minute to pick up a rider if they are more than five miles away. The fares and fees would also be tied to inflation.
Westlin, who voiced her strong support for minimum wage requirements, said she continued to have concerns about other parts of the bill dealing with deactivation.
Westlin, an attorney, said she would continue working with Fateh and the attorneys for Uber and the drivers on improving the language before it reaches the Senate floor, but she said they should have one clean amendment to offer, which would address all the issues of the bill.
“One of the things that annoys me more than anything is wasting time. We made a lot of progress today, and my irritation is that is progress that could’ve been made outside of this committee room long before today,” Westlin said. “I have offered you my help. I have limited time. Do not waste my time further.”
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