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Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles County and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.. (File)

Md. senators working out ride-sharing kinks

Concerns raised about delay in fingerprint background checks for drivers

ANNAPOLIS — A delay in fingerprint background checks for drivers working for ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft is causing concern among some state senators.

The concerns were raised Tuesday during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on a Senate Bill 54, which is intended to clean up some conflicts within a law passed last year that set the framework for taxing and regulating the services.

“This is for the safety of the public,” said Sen. Delores Kelley during testimony by representatives of the Maryland Public Service Commission.

Kelley, D-Baltimore County, said she was concerned about the possibility of an issue with drivers who were not yet required to go through a fingerprint background check.

“You will look bad, we’ll all look bad and there might be great liability,” said Kelley.

Drivers for ride-sharing companies are required to be licensed by the Public Service Commission under a law passed in the closing hours of the 2015 session. The new law requires fingerprint background checks, but the original deadline of April is now being pushed back to the end of the year.

But legislators worry about issues related to hiring drivers who have criminal records. In August, prosecutors in California said they identified 25 people with criminal records that were driving for Uber, according to Time.

“If anything happened between now and the end of the year are we going to get a black eye,” asked Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County.

Public Service Commission officials said they were monitoring the situation and that they expected to bring on additional staff to begin processing the background checks, including fingerprints. The agency expects to process as many as 1,000 to 1,500 per week as the deadline approaches.

Currently, companies such as Uber and Lyft are regulated by a 2015 law that took effect in July and imposed a regulatory and tax structure on so-called transportation network services — a new category of services under which companies such as Uber and Lyft now belong.

The new law set standards for licensing of drivers as well as insurance requirements and provisions to provide for wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Additionally, it set up a fee of up to 25 cents per trip in most counties and municipalities that already regulate taxi service.

But there were also some conflicts discovered in the law last year as the Office of the Comptroller attempted to determine whether or not county and municipal governments could each impost a per-ride fee and if not, which government had priority.

SB 54, sponsored by Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles County and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, clears up those conflicts including establishing a pecking order for county and municipal governments seeking to establish and fee and limiting the combined fee to 25 cents.

Representatives from Uber said anecdotal evidence suggests that use of ride-sharing services can have a positive public safety effect.

Nicholas Zabriskie, senior public policy associate for Uber, said anecdotal reports from Virginia suggest that such services may, at least in part, be responsible for a 22 percent decrease in incidents of driving under the influence.

Zabriskie said the company, which has generally fought attempts to regulate the industry, supports for the 2015 law and the corrective legislation.

“We are growing and thriving in Maryland,” Zabriskie said. “We’re looking forward to continuing to grow.

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