Will Uber soon be allowed in Alaska?

A bill authorizing Uber, Lyft and similar companies to operate in Alaska is headed to a vote of the House of Representatives.

The Alaska House Labor and Commerce Committee on Friday approved Senate Bill 14, which allows so-called “transportation network companies” to work here. The bill has already passed the Senate, and approval by the House is needed before it goes to Gov. Bill Walker for his signature.

“I do think it’s a good idea, and its time has come,” said Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau and chairman of the committee.

Companies like Uber and Lyft, also known as ride-sharing companies, use smartphone applications to connect drivers and riders. The goal is a system that operates more cheaply and more efficiently than taxicab service.

Alaska is the only state that has not allowed these companies, as previous versions of similar legislation have encountered stiff opposition from taxi companies and unions before failing to pass. This year’s bill is moving toward passage, but before allowing it to proceed, Kito and the other members of the committee made some changes.

[Why is Uber wrong for Juneau?]

Under the revised bill, any driver must be 21 or older. Cars used for ride-sharing must be newer than 12 years old. There’s a firm prohibition against curbside pickup without using a smartphone application — that privilege is reserved for taxis.

Drivers have to pass a detailed criminal background check. No one who has had a DUI in the previous three years will be able to drive for a ride-sharing company, and anyone who has had a Class B felony or worse within the past seven years will not be able to drive for a ride-sharing company.

One of the most controversial provisions in the bill, that local municipalities may not regulate the ride-sharing industry any tougher than the state does, remains in the bill. There is one exception: Communities may now apply their local sales taxes to the industry.

After the changes, Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, remained an opponent of the legislation. He said he is still concerned that the core of the bill — which exempts drivers from workers’ compensation laws and most worker protections — is unfair to drivers.

“I’m saddened that something that wasn’t better for drivers couldn’t be crafted,” he said.

The bill will be scheduled for a floor vote as soon as Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks and the bill’s House sponsor, confirms that it has the 21 votes needed to pass.

That vote could happen as soon as Friday but is more likely next week. Scheduling conflicts with the deficit-fighting legislation being considered in the House might delay the vote.

[Why Uber is right for Juneau]

After the House vote, the bill will return to the Senate, where lawmakers will be asked if they agree with the changes made in the House.

Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage and author of the bill, was asked Tuesday whether the Senate is likely to approve the version finished Friday. She declined to offer a definitive answer.

“We’ll look at those changes when it gets passed,” she said.

She said most of the changes appear to be clarifying language, but she wants to take a second look at a provision that allows the Alaska Department of Transportation to sign contracts with ride-sharing companies that deliver people to state-owned international airports.

Airports are popular destinations for those who use ride-sharing companies, and it is possible that the state could earn extra revenue if it gave a particular company exclusive privileges.

“I’ll want to look closely at that and make sure that doesn’t impede the whole purpose of the bill,” she said.

In the House, Wool said Friday that he supports the bill and believes Alaska will be left behind unless the Legislature passes it.

“It’s the future,” he said. “We can sit around and watch it go by, or we can get on board.”

• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 419-7732.

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