- Associated Press - Thursday, April 13, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri lawmakers on Thursday passed statewide regulations for ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft, opening the door for the companies to expand throughout the state.

House members voted 144-7 to send the bill to Republican Gov. Eric Grietens, who has called the measure a job creator and appears likely to sign it into law.

“It’s going to create all kind of opportunities for people to create their own small business and provide riding opportunities that are going to reduce drunk driving (and help) visually impaired individuals,” said bill sponsor Rep. Kirk Mathews, a Pacific Republican.

Uber currently operates in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia and Springfield, where Lyft also operates. Both businesses have said statewide operating rules will enable the companies to expand the app-based services statewide.

Lyft spokesman Scott Coriell said in a statement that the company is “incredibly excited” about the bill’s passage.

“We are currently working on expansion plans, pending signage of the bill,” he said.

The legislation would require that companies pay a licensing fee and adhere to a nondiscrimination policy. It would exempt them from local and municipal taxes and require drivers to submit to background checks and purchase vehicle liability insurance.

Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson in a statement touted the bill as a way to “end the patchwork of regulations from city to city and instead give ridesharing companies a consistent framework to operate within.”

The measure passed with little opposition despite criticism in past years that has derailed efforts for statewide regulations. It passed the Senate 31-1.

The Senate version sets out more specific regulations on which people are qualified to drive based on their driver’s records. People with convictions for sex offenses, drunken driving, acts of violence and other violations would be blocked from driving.

In previous years, the bill has stalled over concerns about conflicts with existing local laws and taxi companies. Under the final version of the bill, both Kansas City and St. Louis could audit ride-hail companies up to twice a year if the measure is signed into law, and ride-hail companies would need to forge separate agreements with airports, which could charge fees.

Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty said the provision allowing audits helped ease concerns in her hometown of Kansas City.

Democratic Rep. Gina Mitten of St. Louis said the measure doesn’t address all her concerns, but people in her district are calling for it.

“It’s as good of a compromise as we’re going to get,” Mitten said.

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