Senate approves Uber regulations, transfer of charter school oversight

Posted July 23, 2015

— After little debate and a 45-2 vote on Wednesday, a bill that would regulate ride-sharing companies such as Uber sparked some of the most intense debate during the Senate floor session on Thursday.

"Now that they're a successful company, we're going to start regulating them," said Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, explaining her opposition to the bill.

Customers use a smartphone application to summon a ride from a transportation network company such as Uber or Lyft. Drivers use the app to accept the fare and use their own cars to ferry people around town.

"Local governments don't have control over Uber and similar types of transportation companies," Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, explained.

Unlike a taxi company, which needs permissions from local governments to operate, the transportation networking company created a regulatory loophole.

Senate Bill 541 closes that loophole by requiring that companies have insurance for their drivers and that drivers to undergo background checks and by allowing airports to regulate where they can drop off and pick up fares. The legislation calls for such companies to pay an annual $5,000 fee to the state.

Some senators worried that the fee would shut out startup companies that may offer competition to the already established services. Others pointed out that the ride-sharing companies would have a one-stop shop for their licenses, while cabbies would still have to deal with paying lots of local fees.

"I was asleep until I read the bill," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph.

He and other senators said that cab drivers still oppose the bill because it did not require regulation as tough as what taxi drivers face.

"They were not all consulted, and they don't like what's happening to them," Tillman said.

Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, stepped into the debate by pointing out that, right now, there are no regulations or insurance requirements for companies like Uber.

"Some regulation is better than none," Apodaca said.

The bill passed 41-5 and is now headed to the House.

Charter school control may switch

Most other bills moved quickly through the Senate Thursday with the exception of a measure dealing with how charter schools are administered.

Currently, the state's Charter School Advisory Board is run under the supervision of the Department of Public Instruction. House Bill 334 would move that board directly under the North Carolina State Board of Education.

The change is a subtle one for most people but would dampen the influence of North Carolina's education bureaucracy on charter regulations. Charter schools are public schools that use tax dollars but are run by private nonprofit corporations.

"We had people who weren't charter school advocates being on the charter school board," said Sen. Dan Soucek, R-Watauga.

Just as you wouldn't hire someone who hated movies to be a movie reviewer, Soucek said, you shouldn't hire people who don't believe in charter schools to oversee them.

Charters have sometimes been controversial because they are not part of the traditional K-12 networks of schools built by county governments. Tillman has longed pushed the state to be more friendly to charters.

Critics of the bill said they don't oppose charters.

"What we should do is have as many charters as can competently deliver education to our young people," Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said.

However, some companies that apply for charters to operate schools don't have a sound fiscal or educational plan, Stein said. He pointed out that the state has added more than 60 charter schools over the past three years since a 100-school cap was lifted.

"We're adding charters at a very rapid rate," he said, adding that putting the charter panel directly under the state school board may not make sense administratively. "If there's a problem in the way the office is working, let's address what the problem is."

Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, also speculated that taking away DPI's role could lead to less oversight and more charter school failures.

The measure passed 34-14 and now goes to the House.


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