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Legislation advancing at the Capitol could extend new insurance protections to rideshare drivers attacked while driving, although lawmakers haven't resolved the central question of minimum pay.

House and Senate committees have revised the bill to grant drivers new rights if they are hurt on the job.

"Consider the human cost behind the services these drivers provide," said Eid Ali, president of the Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association. "The nature of their job exposes them to danger."

The revisions are the product of compromise between Uber and Lyft, the drivers organization, legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Walz's administration. Uber and Lyft already provide insurance for drivers that covers crashes, but drivers' advocates say they face other dangers.

Stephen Cooper, an attorney working with the drivers association, said drivers have frequently been victims of violence, with no cushion from Uber and Lyft if they are hurt.

"Previously, if a driver was shot, beaten, stabbed or robbed, there was no coverage," Cooper said.

The Senate Commerce Committee amended the bill Tuesday to add insurance coverage for drivers including disability benefits and survivors' benefits if a driver is a victim of violence on the job.

Joel Carlson, a lobbyist representing Uber, called the insurance amendment "a step forward." He said the Senate language now matches the House bill more closely — and both bills' insurance provisions were close to the task force recommendations agreed to by both the rideshare companies, drivers groups and a group of state lawmakers. A lobbyist representing Lyft said that company also supported the insurance amendment.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, said he agreed to the amendment as a show of good faith.

Some Uber drivers joined for prayer before Sen. Omar Fateh's bill was up in the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday.
Some Uber drivers joined for prayer before Sen. Omar Fateh's bill was up in the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

During the Commerce Committee hearing, Sen. Jordan Rasmusson, R-Fergus Falls, introduced an amendment that would block any local government unit from setting its own regulations for rideshare companies, terming it a "backstop" to keep Uber and Lyft in Minnesota even if the Legislature and governor cannot agree on a bill.

"We would prohibit local units of government from driving out TNCs [transit networking companies] with these unworkable policies," Rasmusson said. His amendment was voted down by Democrats on the committee.

The Minneapolis City Council voted in March to set minimum pay rates for drivers, prompting Lyft to say it will leave Minneapolis, and Uber the entire metro when the ordinance takes effect July 1.

GOP legislators have tried unsuccessfully to preempt the Minneapolis ordinance in the House as well. Carlson said Uber preferred to focus on consistent statewide regulations.

Earlier this month, a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee looked at letting drivers sue Uber and Lyft if they are hurt on the job, and blocking the companies from requiring drivers to settle disputes in private arbitration, rather than in court.

State Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, said during that hearing that Minnesota's laws have not been enough to protect drivers.

"It's very critical when you show up for work, you go home safe to your family," Hassan said. "This is a really hard job, because you are driving your car, you have your back to a stranger in your car, you can't see what they're doing."

Carlson said the companies don't support those measures, because the right to sue and not be in private arbitration are not guaranteed to other independent contractors.

More broadly, negotiators still think they will be able to pass a bill this session. Getting a little more time helped, Hassan said, with the Minneapolis City Council delaying the effective date of its minimum-pay ordinance from May 1 to July 1. But she said negotiators are still looking for "alignment" on a statewide minimum pay rate.

Carlson said earlier this month he believes House negotiators are working in good faith. Lyft lobbyist John Reich agreed.

"We think we can get there," he said.