Uber bill takes detour in Legislature House rejects Senate changes; panel to seek deal on ride services in June

About 20 states have laws on the books regulating Uber and similar app-based transportation providers. South Carolina is struggling to pass a bill.

The state House voted down changes Thursday that the Senate made to a bill that would regulate Uber and other ride-hailing services in South Carolina.

That means lawmakers will revisit the debate when they reconvene in Columbia on June 16 for three days. The regular session ended Thursday.

The House voted 81-23 to reject the amendments, sending the proposed legislation to a six-person committee of members from both chambers who will try to come up with a compromise.

State Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, urged the House to pass the bill as is Thursday and then make changes in January.

He said he’s concerned that it will be difficult to hammer out a deal in time to keep Uber’s app-based ride-sharing service available for residents and tourists. The company’s temporary license from the S.C. Public Service Commission expires June 30.

“I’ve got to tell you, if this goes away, we’re setting back tourism in South Carolina, we really are,” Merrill told fellow lawmakers Thursday.

If the House had agreed to the Senate’s version, the bill would have gone to Gov. Nikki Haley for her signature. Haley has expressed support for Uber.

The bill would require “transportation network companies” like Uber to obtain a permit from the Office of Regulatory Staff to operate in South Carolina.

Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, said the Senate’s version had little teeth.

“What they did was send us a bill without a lot of things in it that should have been in it, simply for us to send it” to the six-person committee,” said Sandifer, a sponsor of the House version.

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Uber expanded its ride-hailing service to Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Columbia and Greenville last summer, and it has since expanded to the Hilton Head market.

The state has been wrestling with how to regulate the company since January, when the Public Service Commission halted Uber’s operations. The regulatory panel changed its mind two weeks later and granted San Francisco-based Uber a temporary license through June 30, with the expectation that legislators would resolve the issue.

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, said this week that the commission could reinstate the ban if the bill dies.

About 20 states have passed laws regulating Uber and similar transportation providers like Lyft.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.