Soon, Uber drivers may no longer have to go through fingerprint background checks in Houston or anywhere else in Texas.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Texas Senate voted to send a bill to Governor Abbott’s Desk that would do away with those requirements and could help entice Lyft to come back to Houston.
The Senate approved House Bill 100 on a bipartisan vote of 21-10. Because it passed with two-thirds majority, if Governor Abbott signs the bill into law, the changes will take effect immediately.
Under HB 100, cities like Houston will no longer regulate transportation network companies (TNC) like Uber and Lyft. The state will take over that responsibility, using one set of statewide rules that override existing city ordinances.
Fingerprint background checks for TNC drivers are not required under HB 100. In spring 2016, Uber left Austin and threatened to pull out of Houston over that issue.
City officials argue fingerprint checks are more thorough, nearly impossible to fake, and have caught hundreds of drivers with serious crimes on their record that Uber’s checks missed.
However, Uber officials say fingerprint records are often incomplete, and insist the company’s checks use several sources, including social security numbers, driver licenses, bank accounts, and vehicle registrations.
Uber staff has also argued that Houston’s lengthy sign-up process, which they streamlined ahead of the Super Bowl, kept more than 20,000 would-be drivers from following through.
“A statewide framework for ridesharing will help bring greater economic opportunity and expanded access to safe, reliable transportation options to more Texans,” said Sarfraz Maredia, General Manager for Uber Texas, in a statement following the vote.
Officials with Lyft, another TNC that left Houston in 2014 over the fingerprint issue, praised Wednesday’s vote.
“Passage of a statewide ridesharing framework will allow us to return to Houston,” said Chelsea Harrison, a Lyft spokesperson, in a written statement. “We are working to be prepared to serve Houston riders and drivers when that time arrives.”
However, Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, a longtime supporter of fingerprint background checks, said he was “disappointed” by the vote.
“This is another example of the legislature circumventing local control to allow corporations to profit at the expense of public safety,” said Turner, in a statement.
Lara Cottingham, Deputy Assistant Director for the city’s Administration & Regulatory Affairs Department, which regulates TNCs, says the city will be losing out on the two percent cut they were getting from drivers’ earnings.
Cottingham says she can’t give out specific estimates on how much the city could lose due to an ongoing lawsuit with Uber over financial data. However, she suggests while it won’t break the bank, “it’s still a good chunk of change.”