Ride-hailing company Uber supports letting New Jersey's attorney general decide what type of background checks its drivers should use rather than lawmakers, but says it still plans to leave the state if fingerprinting is required.
Company spokesman Matt Wing said the San Francisco-based company supports an amended measure in the state Senate that would give the attorney general 100 days to decide the type and method of criminal background checks that all drivers and applicants would have to go through.
The company has threatened to leave the state if lawmakers require fingerprinting, and it has aggressively lobbied against those requirements here and elsewhere. A competing measure in the state Assembly would require fingerprint checks if the ride-sharing companies don't use a check approved by the New Jersey state police.
"The Senate has recognized the need to pass statewide ride-sharing regulation that keeps Uber in New Jersey. We support the Senate's proposal even though it requires major compromises on our part," Wing said. "We don't want to prejudge the Attorney General's work but the bottom line is that any fingerprinting requirement would force Uber out of New Jersey."
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Chelsea Wilson, a spokeswoman for Lyft, said the company is evaluating the amendments passed at a committee hearing Thursday. Both companies had supported the original Senate measure, which would have required a state police background check without fingerprints.
New Jersey State Senator, Paul Sarlo, a Bergen County Democrat who chairs the committee, said his priority is regulating the industry and wants the attorney general's office to recommend what type of checks should be done.\
"This is an industry that has gone on too long unregulated, and we need to start regulating," Sarlo said. "We can always go back and add that, but right now we need to get insurance on these people, we need them to start to get registered."
A spokesman for the attorney general's office said the bill is under review and didn't say if the office has a position on whether fingerprints should be required.
None of the more than 30 states that regulate ride-hailing companies requires fingerprinting, but it is required in cities including New York and Houston. Uber and Lyft recently left Austin, Texas, after voters declined to overturn a law requiring fingerprint checks.
Supporters say fingerprint checks are the "gold standard" and required of limo drivers in New Jersey. Uber and Lyft say the fingerprint background checks are flawed and incomplete.
Uber spent $160,000 lobbying New Jersey lawmakers last year and recently asked former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to send a letter to lawmakers arguing that fingerprint checks are an unfair way to screen job candidates. Holder's law firm advises Uber on safety matters.
Holder wrote that because of deficiencies in the FBI's database, fingerprint checks can prevent people from getting jobs even if they never were convicted. He said they can discriminate against minorities.
Jason Sharenow, president of the Limousine Association of New Jersey, said he has not seen any category of driver or minority group disproportionately affected by fingerprinting requirements. He said that ride-hailing drivers should have to be fingerprinted the same as limo drivers across the state.