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Uber calls ‘unfortunate’ bill’s change in driver background checks

The Florida House on Thursday adopted an amendment requiring what supporters see as more stringent background checks for drivers with ride services like Uber, a move a company spokeswoman called “unfortunate.”

The 65-47 vote on the House floor adds a new twist as the Senate approved a bill with key differences on insurance but not addressing background checks. To make new law, the chambers will have to work out their differences as the session approaches a scheduled close May 1.

The House amendment calls for “level 2” background checks involving fingerprints, a bit different from what Uber does now and what a temporary operating agreement in Palm Beach County allows.

Incidents involving Uber drivers — in Orlando and around the country — have spurred some calls for tougher background checks using fingerprints. But Uber officials dispute their process is less comprehensive or effective.

“It’s unfortunate that the House adopted an amendment requiring an inferior background check process that does less to protect consumer safety than the one Uber currently uses to screen potential driver-partners,” Uber spokesperson Kaitlin Durkosh said. “We are eager to engage with today’s amendment supporters and inform them of the stringent process we have in place to help ensure safety on the platform.”

Uber backers say it uses a nationally accredited third party to conduct background checks that include a review of a driver’s background against local, state and federal criminal records.

But there has a been a push for a different level of scrutiny in some industries such as those that involve care of children or, in the case of ride services, getting in a car with someone you don’t know.

“The trend in most states right now is over time to move people from name-based background to fingerpint-based background checks.” said Chris Brown, vice president of strategy and identity services at MorphoTrust USA in Massachusetts, a company that provides such checks at a cost of about $60 in Florida.

Any resolution between the chambers will have to deal with the issue of local control over issues besides insurance. The Senate plan leaves the door open for counties and cities to set their own standards on things like background checks. Palm Beach County officials are watching the issue but would not necessarily oppose the level of screening now in the House bill, said Todd Bonlarron, director of Palm Beach County legislative affairs.

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