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The Senate vote comes on the heels of a strong, bi-partisan, 35-5 vote of approval in the House earlier this week. Only four House Democrats — Matt Claman, Zach Fansler, David Guttenburg and Chris Tuck — plus one lone Republican, Gary Knopp of Kenai, voted against the bill. [corrected from earlier version of story, which stated Chuck Kopp of Anchorage.]
For Uber, it will be a victorious return, since it was unceremoniously booted out of Alaska by Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas in 2015.
Although Senate Bill 14 was hers, sponsor Sen. Mia Costello worked with the House to pass its version, House Bill 132, sponsored by Democrat Adam Wool of Fairbanks.
Wool owns a bar and has said ridesharing will lead to safer streets with fewer inebriated drivers.
HB 132 ended up with one curious aspect tacked onto it: Local communities can opt out if the local voting public chooses to disallow ridesharing during the next general election. That election in Anchorage would be next April.
Uber plans to start operations in Anchorage in June, Must Read Alaska has learned, giving it some lead time before an election might scuttle it.
“I will be smiling for a long time — whenever I see someone using ridesharing in Alaska. This was a jobs bill, and is exactly what we needed during this recession,” Costello said today.
House Bill 132 clears the way for economic opportunity for individuals who want to drive others around for a living or as a part-time way to supplement income. The bill provided clarity to the state’s insurance and workers compensation statutes, classifying rideshare drivers as independent contractors and exempting them from workers’ compensation, similar to taxi drivers.
“Alaska is in the midst of its first recession since the 1980s and this bill creates jobs, providing a much-needed boost to the economy,” Costello said.
Although Gov. Walker has indicated he supports ridesharing, Labor Commissioner Heidi Drygas fought against Uber in 2015. She brought a complaint against the company to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board, accusing Uber of misclassifying driver employees as independent contractors, contrary to the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Act.
“By requiring Uber to comply with state laws, we are sending a very clear message that the State of Alaska will not tolerate worker misclassification fraud,” said Commissioner Heidi Drygas in 2015. The settlement with Uber required it to pay $78,000 to the State of Alaska.
“The Uber settlement is part of a growing trend in which states and the federal government are working to stop misclassification, which deprives workers of health and labor rights protections. Worker misclassification also defrauds the state and federal government of tax revenue, costing taxpayers billions of dollars while leaving workers vulnerable to on-the-job injuries,” Drygas said in 2015.
Even in 2017 as the legislation advanced, Drygas continued to work behind the scenes to stop ridesharing from returning. She showed up in Alaska’s Capitol numerous times and talked to lawmakers about her concerns, as did AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami, who also worked against ridesharing due to its independent, nonunion nature. Perhaps allowing Comm. Drygas to continue to oppose the legislation was a way for Gov. Walker to throw Vince Beltrami a bone.
But Sen. Costello explained today why ridesharing is legal and why today’s legislation clarifies it as such.
“Rideshare drivers use their own cars and equipment, work on their own time and can even be off-duty taxi drivers,” Costello said. “Drivers can work when, where and how they want, which is why it makes sense to allow them to work as independent contractors.”
Americans for Prosperity-Alaska’s state Director Jeremy Price was ecstatic. His organization had worked hard to get the legislation passed and today he posted on his personal Facebook page: “Woo-hoo! I’m never taking a taxi in Anchorage again!”
Later, in a statement released by AFP-Alaska, Price said, “We commend the Legislature for passing this bill. This legislation provides a safer way to get home and another way for Alaskans to earn income. Today, everyday Alaskans achieved a major victory over a few vocal special interests, and all Alaskans will benefit.”
HB 132 requires prospective ridesharing companies to conduct safety inspections, background checks, and enforce substance abuse policies and other safeguards.
“We made sure important safeguards are in place,” said Sen. Costello. “In addition, ridesharing services will improve safety on the roads – as they have in other states – by reducing the number of DUIs.”
During a legislative session that has seen few bi-partisan accomplishments, especially on economic issues, HB132 stands out as a refreshing victory in favor of economic freedom and against narrow special interests.
AFP-Alaska’s Jeremy Price said he has a box of Uber-themed t-shirts and beer insulator “koozies” left over from rallies, and they’re free for the taking for anyone who wants them.