Peer-to-peer vehicle sharing, reflexology discussed in Legislature

Sen. Dave Murman speaks on reflexology Tuesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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January 28, 2020 - 5:54pm

Peer-to-peer vehicle sharing would be taxed and regulated, under a proposal discussed Tuesday. Meanwhile, a proposal to ease regulations on reflexology ran into opposition in legislative debate.

Peer-to-peer vehicle sharing is the term for people renting vehicles from other individuals, rather than companies, using an online platform similar to Airbnb for housing. It has been growing in popularity, with one company reporting it has more than 500 Nebraskans signed up to rent out their vehicles, and 19,000 signed up to use the service. Unlike Airbnb rentals, where it’s up to local governments whether or not to impose a tax, peer-to-peer vehicle sharing is currently not regulated or taxed in Nebraska.

That would change under a proposal by Sen. Curt Friesen, chair of the Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. Friesen told a public hearing Tuesday he’s simply trying to create a level playing field between the two types of vehicle providers.

A representative of traditional car rental companies, Ryan Thistlethwaite of Enterprise Holdings, which owns Enterprise, National and Alamo, supported the proposal. He called peer-to-peer sharing an exciting development that Enterprise is considering getting into.

“Unfortunately peer-to-peer platform owners tend to exempt itself (sic) from standard taxes, fees and other regulations. It’s critical therefore to ensure that the policy framework around such a business model adequately protects consumers, car owners, and the revenue streams for the states and cities,” Thistlethwaite said.

But William Dane, who works for Turo, one of the platforms for peer-to–peer vehicle sharing, said taxing rental transactions carried out using the platform would be unfair.

“Applying another tax on these transactions results in triple tax on Nebraskans seeking to make ends meet using their own personal property. A Turo host has paid sales tax on the purchase of their car, and pays income tax on any earnings. Adding one more transaction or rental car tax is unfair when the rental car industry does not have the same obligations,” Dane said.

Dane estimated that not paying sales tax on their cars saves rental car companies in Nebraska more than $21 million a year. Meanwhile, he estimated, the 526 people in Nebraska -- referred to as “hosts” -- who rent out their vehicles, paid $555,000 in tax when they bought those vehicles.

Opponents of the proposal also objected to requiring online platforms to check at least once every 72 hours to see if any of the models being offered has been subject to a safety recall. Friesen said he would work with supporters and opponents on possible changes to the bill.

In debate by the full Legislature Tuesday, senators considered making it easier to practice reflexology. That’s a kind of massage in which pressure is applied to the hands, feet, and sometimes ears. Currently, practitioners fall under the same licensing requirements as massage therapists, which include 1,000 hours of training.

Sen. Dave Murman proposed to create an exemption for reflexologists, who he said are passionate and eager to get to work.

“They currently cannot practice in this state unless they are licensed as massage therapists. Practicing without a massage therapy license currently leaves them at risk of being charged with a felony. We need to be encouraging individuals to start businesses and create jobs, not convicting them of felonies for trying to earn a living,” Murman said.

But Sen. Sara Howard, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said the proposal goes too far by exempting reflexologists from any regulation.

“I agree that 1,000 hours to be a reflexologist is ridiculous. But I am concerned that if we exempt them, then there is nothing. There's nothing to address any bad actors. There's nothing to say, ‘Hey, you can't be a reflexologist.’ And there's nothing to say that when I'm done in the Legislature, that I can't put out a shingle and say ‘I'm a reflexologist,’” Howard said.

Sen. Ben Hansen, who is a chiropractor, said there’s no need for government regulation of reflexologists.

“In the society that we live in that has Yelp, that has social media, that has Facebook, if there is something going on, if there are hooligans performing reflexology, it's going to be on social media in about an hour and everyone will know it,” Hansen said.

But Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said other states, like Washington and Nevada, that had tried not regulating reflexology, had found practices that were being used as covers for human trafficking operations.

“Yeah, we want business in our state. We want business to thrive. But we do not need illicit fronts for human trafficking to thrive in this state,” Pansing Brooks said.

Faced with opposition, Murman offered a compromise amendment, which would require reflexologists to register with the Department of Health and Human Services. Howard suggested a training requirement of perhaps 200 hours could be added later. Senators adjourned for the day before voting on either the amendment or the bill itself.




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