It is now well established that politicians wait until late on Friday afternoon to do bad things. And they wait until Friday evening to do really bad things.
So it should come as no surprise that Scott Walker’s office waited until late Friday night — WisPolitics reported the story at 11:20 p.m. — to announce that the governor had signed legislation creating a scheme to make it easier for “ridesharing” companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate without local regulation and oversight in communities across Wisconsin.
Instead of vetoing a bad bill, as he should have, Walker approved a measure that was promoted by free-spending national corporations and backed by pliant legislators of both parties. His choice to sign the measure means that well-established local regulations and licensing standards, which are designed to protect riders, drivers and the community, will not apply to Uber and Lyft.
It did not have to be this way. The Legislature could have established a baseline state standard and then allowed communities to set higher standards. Instead of erring up, however, the Legislature chose to err down.
And Walker went right along with them.
Make no mistake: This legislation was specifically designed to prevent cities such as Madison and Milwaukee from requiring Uber and Lyft to follow the same sensible rules that apply to taxi cab companies and their drivers.
Walker is not a fool. He knows that’s a bad idea. That’s why he waited until a Friday night to sign the bill into law and that’s why he made noises about how he had directed the state Department of Safety and Professional Services to take steps to “ensure the safety of our citizens."
We respect that the Department of Safety and Professional Services may eventually set some standards. But it would not be necessary to do this if Walker and the Legislature had simply let communities maintain existing regulations, licensing schemes and high standards.
Walker knows that the bill he signed was a gift to out-of-state corporations that hired top lobbyists and worked every angle at the Capitol.
But Walker regularly does the bidding of out-of-state corporations.
So why is it so wrong that he followed his pattern with regard to the Uber/Lyft bill?
The fear is that Walker’s move will allow these corporations and their “independent” drivers to operate more irresponsibly than competitors. Critics predict that this will lead to abuses of workers, riders and the community. And there are reasons to be concerned, as Madisonians have learned in recent days.
There were two allegations last week of male Uber drivers assaulting female passengers. In a letter sent to the governor, Madison-area legislators detailed how, in one case, a 23-year-old woman reported that she was inappropriately touched and bruised by an Uber driver. The letter also detailed how, in the second incident, a 26-year-old woman had reported that an Uber driver attempted to kiss her and then harassed her by phone and text.
The women went to the Madison Police, and apparently followed all the proper procedures.
Yet, remarkably, Uber officials refused to cooperate with the police. As the Madison-area legislators explained in their letter, the companies indicated that they would not provide information about a driver who was involved in one of the incidents without a subpoena or a warrant.
The reports were serious enough to lead the Madison-area legislators to make a last-minute appeal to the governor to veto the Uber/Lyft legislation.
The legislators — state Sen. Fred Risser and state Reps. Lisa Subeck, Melissa Sargent, Dianne Hesselbein, Terese Berceau, Chris Taylor, Sondy Pope, Andy Jorgensen, David Considine, Gary Hebl and Robb Kahl — argued that the legislation provided “minimal state oversight and no local oversight” to the industry, which uses apps to link drivers and passengers.
That, as the legislators noted, is radically different from the regulated and responsible way in which Madison cab companies operate.
Subeck, a long-time advocate for women’s safety, was blunt. Speaking of the alleged sexual assaults in Madison, she said, "The bill does not require or even allow the requirements by local government to license individual drivers, and that's what really stands out in these incidents to us.”
Walker should have respected the request from the legislators and vetoed this obviously flawed measure.
Because he signed this bill, Uber and Lyft drivers will not be licensed as cab drivers are in Madison and other Wisconsin communities, and the companies will not be regulated as cab companies are in Madison and other communities. They will not be held to the standards that Madison and other Wisconsin communities have established to preserve public safety. That’s unacceptable enough.
In the case of Uber, the company does not even cooperate with the police when trouble arises. That’s completely unacceptable.
The governor was informed of all the concerns.
He was asked to do the right thing.
But he did the wrong thing.
Walker’s decision to sign the Uber/Lyft legislation was deplorable, and it suggests that the all-but-announced 2016 presidential candidate is completely out of touch with the concerns of Wisconsin women and Wisconsin communities.
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to email@example.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.