Unicam advances regulations on ridesharing services, dog and cat breeders

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April 21, 2015 - 6:02pm

Bills designed to regulate transportation services like Uber and Lyft, and to crack down on dog and cat breeders if they mistreat animals, are advancing in the Nebraska Legislature.

Since getting started in San Francisco in 2009, ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft have spread across the country and around the world. These so-called transportation network companies don’t hire drivers or own cars. Instead, passengers use a cell phone app to summon people who drive their own cars to provide rides. The services been praised for greater convenience and lower cost than traditional taxi services. But they’ve also raised questions about insurance coverage and other issues. Omaha Sen. Heath Mello introduced a bill, LB629, to address those issues. Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld supported it, saying the ride services benefit everyone, including people who’ve had too much to drink and can’t find a taxi, and other people who need rides:

"This is an issue of public safety -- not only for people who probably shouldn’t be driving, or shouldn’t be – but also for families that are on the road, people going to and from work. We need to ensure there is as many different public transportation options for Nebraskans as possible, and we need to make sure that we stay up with the times. And LB629 does that," Morfeld said.

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson said the new services could benefit small town Nebraska, if they were not overregulated. "The cheaper we can make this service, the more likely they will provide that service in the smaller communities. And I think this would be an ideal job for someone who is retired, wants to make a little extra money, and you’ve got a lot of elderly people that need to go (to) medical care, the pharmacy, the grocery store," Friesen said.

Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, chairman of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, said transportation network companies, or TNCs, are a good innovation. "We want them to operate in our state. We want them to operate in our cities. I think it’s a fantastic technology company. And we want that innovation, that technology, and those options for our citizens to have. We have some difference of opinions as to some of the guidelines and operations under which these TNCs should follow," Smith said.

One of those differences involves protecting companies, such as banks, that hold liens on cars that drivers are using to transport passengers. Omaha Sen. Brett Lindstrom proposed an amendment to require the TNC’s to search for liens on their drivers’ cars, and notify the lienholders if the cars were being used for such services. Otherwise, he said, an insurance company could say the driver’s policy did not cover that use, and the bank could be left with worthless collateral if the car was in an accident.

Opponents of Lindstrom’s amendment, said it would be one of the most intrusive regulation of such services in the country, and would inhibit TNCs from operating in Nebraska.

Lindstrom eventually withdrew his amendment after Mello, the sponsor of the bill, promised to work with opponents on an amendment for the next round of debate. Mello said the amendment could involve requiring drivers, rather than the TNCs, to report their participation to lienholders. The bill then advanced on a vote of 39-1.

Lawmakers also took up a proposal by Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo, chairman of the Agriculture Committee, to tighten regulations on commercial dog and cat breeders. Among those speaking in support of the measure was Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor. "It used to be, if we think back 10-15 years ago and we drove by abandoned – otherwise abandoned – farmhouses that now were being rented by individuals, we immediately and usually correctly assumed it was a meth lab. Now it’s a puppy mill. We have a problem. And Nebraska has become known as the puppy mill capital of the United States in some quarters. That’s how bad a problem we have. We need to do something about it," Gloor said.

The bill would clarify the Department of Agriculture’s authority and allow the use of inspectors with law enforcement training to build evidence of mistreatment of animals. It would also give courts the option of returning animals to owners suspected of mistreating them on condition that inhuman conditions, like failing to shelter them from extreme weather, are eliminated.

Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins expressed reservations, not so much about the regulations as they applied to dog and cat breeders, as about how they might extend to the livestock industry. "Colleagues, if the regulations that are in this bill were put on a feedlot, that feedlot could not operate. So let’s be careful as we go forward here with this that we don’t open a door that we don’t intend to," he said. Senators gave the bill first round approval on a vote of 29-0.



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