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Capitol Roundup: Drug Crime, Ride-Hailing Bills Advance

Alan Cordova / Flickr

Alan Cordova / Flickr

Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft would be more tightly regulated under a new proposal in the California Legislature.

It’s the latest battle between the taxicab and ride-hailing industries.

Democratic Senator Ben Hueso’s bill passed its first committee Tuesday.

It would authorize the California Public Utilities Commission to set ride-hailing rates and establish rules for the industry and require driver background checks.

Hueso says he wants to ensure more stable fares for drivers and consumers.

“There’s got to be a way to allow some flexibility in the pricing but to also provide some guarantee to drivers that at least they’re going to make some kind of a profit,” says Hueso. “For example, you go out for dinner and their fare costs you $10. And you want to come home, and then it costs you $60.”

Republican Senator Mike Morrell joined the tech industry and ride-hailing companies in criticizing the measure.

“My biggest concern is the PUC fixing rates and prices and that kind of thing. I don’t think it’s gonna create a level playing field, and it’s gonna perhaps eliminate competition,” Morrell says. “It doesn’t seem like a free marketplace.”

The measure now advances to another Senate committee.

Meanwhile, California lawmakers advanced one bill that would reduce sentences for repeat drug crime offenders – and another that would increase penalties for the sale of one drug in particular.

The Senate Public Safety Committee passed a measure that would eliminate add-on sentences known as “enhancements” for drug felons who are convicted again.

Democrat Loni Hancock chairs the committee. She says enhancements simply incarcerate people for longer terms at great expense.

“These enhancements have been in place for quite a while and our drug epidemic continues,“ she says. They haven’t worked.”

But Republican Senator Jeff Stone says the bill would give a “get-out-of-jail free card” to drug dealers.

“These are cheap, toxic poisons that are being pedaled on our kids and it’s killing them,” Stone says.

The bill next moves to the full Senate.

At the same hearing, lawmakers voted to expand a drug crime enhancement.

That measure would increase penalties for the sale of fentanyl, a powerful opioid that has led to 10 deaths and dozens of hospitalizations in the Sacramento area in recent weeks.

The bill advances to another Senate committee.