Bill allowing companies like Uber to operate fizzles again

CARSON CITY — A bill to allow ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in Nevada failed for the second time this legislative session when Senate Democrats on Friday withheld their support.

The Senate voted 13-7 on Assembly Bill 175, falling one-vote short of the two-thirds majority needed for passage. It came a day after the Senate unanimously agreed to amend AB175 dealing with taxicab seat belts to insert authorization for and regulation of transportation network companies.

The measure also imposes a 3 percent excise tax on ride fares for ride-hailing companies as well as taxicabs and limousines.

Friday’s turn of events came after Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, questioned the anticipated revenue to be raised through the tax. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson estimated it would generate $90 million to $100 million over the two-year budget cycle.

The first $5 million is mandated to go to the state highway fund. The rest would feed state general fund coffers and Roberson said some of that money, $19 million, would go to fully fund a new medical school at UNLV.

But Republicans on Friday conceded it was hard to determine exactly how much the state could receive because there is no historical data.

“So yesterday we voted on this based on the job creation and bringing money for the UNLV medical school,” Smith said. “And now I don’t feel like I can be assured that money is going to be there. So I will change my vote.”

Roberson tried to subdue the criticism, saying that while they cannot precisely predict revenue, it was almost assured it would bring in enough for the medical school, which is a priority for most lawmakers this session.

“If we do not pass this bill, I’m not sure where that money is going to come from,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, asked that the vote be postponed.

“To the extent there were questions … I think we need time to figure that out,” Ford said. “I suggest we table this discussion.”

But Roberson called for the vote anyway, resulting in a doomed outcome. State Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, a Las Vegas Democrat who helped broker the deal with Republican Sen. James Settelmeyer of Minden to revive the legislation after its first defeat on the Senate floor last month, voted in favor of the bill. So did fellow Las Vegas Democrat Joyce Woodhouse.

The bill could still be revived in the coming days.

The vote came amid a backdrop of partisanship that has become more pointed and frequent in the upper chamber as lawmakers try to wrap up business by a June 1 deadline and pass a tax package to fund Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed $7.4 billion spending plan.

Roberson and state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, are shepherding the Republican governor’s tax plan that includes a new business license fee schedule, making taxes originally set to expire four years ago permanent, and raising cigarette taxes by $1 a pack.

But Democrats want to slow the process and on Thursday in the Senate Revenue Committee voted against the so-called “sunset” bill involving more than $800 million in levies, a move that angered the Republican majority.

On Friday, Republican and Democratic leadership traded press releases, each using variations of “embarrassing” to describe the other.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb.

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