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Victor Joecks: Democrats raise bill from the dead to help taxi industry kill Uber

CARSON CITY

Uber is so popular that the taxi industry has turned to a last-minute legislative Hail Mary to try to push ride-sharing companies out of Nevada.

It was two years ago that state lawmakers approved legislation authorizing transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft, to operate in Nevada. Taxi industry lobbyists fought aggressively and sought support for rules that ride-sharing companies opposed.

It didn’t work, and the competition has Nevada taxi companies feeling the pinch. As the Review-Journal’s Art Marroquin reported, taxi company revenue declined by over 13 percent in the first 11 months of 2016.

Stan Olsen, chairman of the Nevada Taxicab Authority, blamed the decline on consumers choosing ride-sharing companies and said he wanted “fair and equitable” regulations on such drivers.

In government, “fair and equitable” is usually doublespeak for regulations that hinder competitors. This is exactly what the taxi industry wants to do, and it had enough political juice to raise the hoped-for rules from the dead.

Senate Bill 226 passed the Senate in April, and it would have required transportation network companies to ensure that drivers have state business licenses.

It went to the Assembly floor last week, where Assemblyman Richard Carrillo, D-Las Vegas, dropped a major amendment. Carrillo wants to increase ride-sharing insurance requirements to the highest in the country, impose onerous signage requirements and make drivers obtain a permit from the Nevada Transportation Authority.

Per the amendment, the transportation authority would be able to deny a driver’s permit if it determines that issuing a license “would be detrimental to public health, welfare or safety.” That authority is broad enough to deny a ride-sharing license to Kyle Busch.

“We either have to leave the state, or Nevada becomes the most difficult regulatory environment in the country,” said one lobbyist.

The bill nearly died, as the midnight Friday deadline passed and the bill had received neither an exemption nor a vote on the Assembly floor.

At 12:09 a.m. Saturday, however, Las Vegas Democrat Teresa Benitez-Thompson dug deep into the rules of parliamentary procedure to inform the Assembly that, although it was after midnight, it was still the same legislative day. The clerk then announced that SB226 had received an exemption — and new life.

On Monday, Assembly Ways and Means held a hearing on the amendment’s fiscal note, but chairwoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, asked those testifying to avoid discussing policy before the money committee. Which means Democrats may be looking to push through these regulations without one hearing on the policy merits or lack thereof.

It’s exactly what the taxi companies are hoping for.

Victor Joecks is a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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