The Austin City Council on Thursday closed one large loophole in the city’s criminal background checks for taxi, shuttle and limousine drivers, voting to make those checks national in scope.
(Article by Ben Wear, republished from http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/local-govt-politics/austin-expands-background-checks-for-taxi-drivers/nq2SP/)
Up until now, the background checks for most of those drivers were limited to Texas offenses. The checks were expanded to another state only if the applicant seeking the chauffeur’s license had lived in Texas less than three years.
Council Member Ann Kitchen said the national background check requirement is part of the effort to “level the playing field” between taxi drivers and those working for ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft. The companies have said they screen their drivers with a national background check.
The 9-1 vote Thursday, with Council Member Don Zimmerman opposed and Council Member Leslie Pool away from the dais, didn’t change the larger dispute between the city and the ride-hailing companies over how to start those background checks.
The city ordinance passed in December calls for fingerprinting to ensure the identity of the applicant being screened. Lyft and Uber, which run checks based on drivers’ names and other information, have said fingerprinting applicants would be onerous and unnecessary. The companies have pushed for the item going before voters May 7 that would undo the fingerprinting requirement.
The council on Thursday also decided not to wade into the more controversial waters of redefining what crimes would prevent drivers from receiving a chauffeur’s license.
The current rules disqualify taxi, limo or shuttle driver applicants who have been convicted of certain offenses — including homicide; fraud or theft; unauthorized use of a motor vehicle; prostitution or promoting of prostitution; sexual assault, abuse or indecency; firearms violations; violence to a person; drug offenses and driving while intoxicated — unless they have served their sentence and “maintained a record of good conduct and steady employment” since their release.
The proposal, at least as currently written, would have shut that re-entry door completely in many cases.
For certain nonviolent crimes, including drug possession and driving while intoxicated, only a conviction within the past seven years would have disqualified an applicant from getting a chauffeur’s permit. But for a longer list of more serious offenses, including murder, rape and property crimes such as theft and burglary, a conviction at any time would have meant disqualification.
The council held off on that provision, as well as other changes to the rules for taxis and limos likely to come before the council in June.
Zimmerman said he would prefer that the council act on all of the changes at one time. He suggested that May or June might be an appropriate time, after Austin voters decide whether to repeal the current law for ride-hailing services and replace it with the one amenable to Uber and Lyft.
“If we say that we shouldn’t do things piecemeal and we want to do them all together, let’s do them all together,” he said.
Read more at: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/local-govt-politics/austin-expands-background-checks-for-taxi-drivers/nq2SP/