Most of the time, we take our leaps of faith without ever thinking about them.
We walk into a restaurant assuming it’s a safe place to eat, that a public health inspector, on our behalf, has been there first. We do the same as we step aboard an aircraft or ride the elevator to our high-rise office downtown, which happens to straddle an earthquake fault. In our public spaces, we count on the advance guard of government to keep us out of harm’s way.
As the old economy continues to shift to the demands of high-tech, we must be guided by the same precaution. Safety isn’t some built-in app. It doesn’t simply come with the innovation. New economy or old, the protective role of government is no less vital.
As chair of the Senate Select Committee on Missing and Unidentified Person, I was troubled to learn that there is no statewide policy prohibiting registered sex offenders from working as drivers for taxi cab services or one of the high-tech "transportation network companies." That's a hole in the system that invites trouble, if not tragedy.
It's hard not to marvel at the rise of Uber. It has changed the way many urbanites move to and fro. You access an app on your cell phone and a driver in a nice car shows up at your door. He already knows where you’re going. There’s hardly a need to exchange words. You won’t be handing him cash or a credit card because it’s all been set up through ether’s middle man. But what about that real man, foot on the gas, hands on the wheel? What’s his past?
Taxis are regulated city by city. Taxi cab companies argue that they are prohibited by local policy from employing sex offenders and, in most cases, convicted felons. But there is no statewide law guaranteeing such.
Uber and its main competitor, Lyft, assure the public that they are vigilant in policing themselves; no sex offenders or felons are allowed to ferry passengers from place to place. But again, there is no statewide regulation guaranteeing this.
Into this void, I am introducing SB 372, which will serve as the first statewide policy on both taxi cab and transportation network drivers. The bill would prohibit the hiring or retaining of any driver who is required by law to register as a sex offender. Failure to comply would trigger a fine up to $5,000 for both the driver and the company or a three-month jail sentence for the driver, or both.
Regulation for regulation sake is a pet peeve of mine. I’m a big advocate of allowing a marketplace of ideas to prevail. In other words, let high-tech companies compete among themselves for consumers and let that competition wean out the lesser of innovators. But SB 372 isn’t government’s heavy hand. It’s a common sense law that gives the public some added assurance that the man shifting from fourth gear to third gear, heading up the hill, is not hiding a predatory past. That the direction he’s going is the direction you’ve sent him on.