WEEK IN REVIEW
RIDESHARING LEGISLATION CLOSE TO BECOMING LAW
(AUSTIN) — A bill that would set statewide regulations for ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft could soon be law after the Senate sent the measure to the Governor's desk on Wednesday. Supporters of the measure say that the patchwork of city regulations are confusing and restrictive to consumers and business alike. "Regulating these services at the city level will always be challenging for the simple fact that people don't live, work or play in only one city," said Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner. "Transportation, by its very nature, is a regional concern that routinely crosses municipal boundaries." He is the sponsor of HB 100, which would allow only the state to set rules by which these companies operate.
Officially known as transportation network companies, these businesses allow consumers to use smart phone apps to order rides on demand, and let drivers to use their personal vehicles to provide transport in exchange for a fee. HB 100 would supersede all existing municipal ordinances regulating TNCs, making those laws null and void. The bill does include a number of provisions intended to ensure customer safety. TNC drivers would be subject to yearly criminal background and sex offender checks and would have to carry valid auto insurance. TNCs would be required to provide electronic receipts and retain records for every ride for five years. Governor Greg Abbott has indicated he is ready to sign the bill. Because it received two-thirds support in both chambers, the bill would become law the moment it is signed.
On Friday, the Senate approved a bill a bill, HB 62 by Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini that would make it illegal to text or post to social media while driving. Distracted driving, which includes texting while driving, is becoming increasingly recognized as a major road hazard, with state data showing that it causes more than 100,000 car accidents in Texas every year. Drivers could still text while their car is stopped, but if caught texting and driving, they could face a $99 fine for the first offense, and $200 for every subsequent offense. The bill would not prohibit using one's phone as a GPS or music device, or for emergency purposes. "I have waited 10 years to make this motion," Zaffirini told colleagues before she moved for final passage. This is her fifth session in a row carrying a texting ban bill.
Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee considered ending high stakes testing for fifth and eighth graders. Current accountability standards require students in those grades to pass a STAAR exam in reading and math in order to move up to the next grade. According to state data, about three-fourths of students pass these exams, and broad exceptions mean that almost everyone that fails the test is moved ahead anyway. HB 515, sponsored by Friendswood Senator and Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor would make the tests assessment tools for teacher and administrator performance, like they are in every other grade. "We're really not changing the world. We're taking some of the onus off of the kids, but the school is still going to be held accountable on how that educational process is going within that campus," he said.
The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday approved a $1.7 billion spending bill needed to align current fiscal year spending with appropriations made two years ago. This bill, called the supplemental budget, is a necessary measure every session, as budgets are based on estimates of revenues and expenses. This session, the bill must make up $750 million in state costs for Medicaid and another $160 million for emergency interim appropriations to the state's child protective services system. The bill was sent to the full Senate and, provided it passes, must still be negotiated with the House to iron out differences between the two chambers' versions of the bill.
The Senate will reconvene Sunday, May 21 at 7 p.m.