We’re back after taking Tuesday night off to finish up a recap on filing day. Here are some stories you may have missed, plus what we wrote today. —Federal judge shoots down state food benefit rules. U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Gonzales ruled against the latest attempt by the state to impose new work rules on those who receive food benefits, or SNAP. The rules the state imposed required 80 hours per month of approved work activity for able-bodied adults from 18-49 if they wanted to continue to receive SNAP benefits for more than three months
“We are pleased that unemployed adults will not face the illegal loss of food assistance in addition to the economic hardship that many are already facing in New Mexico,” Sovereign Hager, Staff Attorney at the Center on Law and Poverty, said in a statement.
Legislation that provides an outline for regulations of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft is awaiting action by Gov. Susana Martinez—but there is still a possible lengthy process before the rules are in place. After rules imposed last year by the Public Regulation Commission in the absence of legislation, Lyft halted operations in the state and Uber has been operating, some say, illegally. A pending New Mexico Supreme Court case and possible signature by the governor adds some ambiguity to the future of Uber in New Mexico and whether Lyft will resume operations in the state. If signed into law, companies like Uber and Lyft would be regulated separately from taxi companies by the PRC. Martinez’s signature needed
The entire process depends on Martinez signing the legislation, which seems promising given her reaction after the session to the legislation on ride-hailing (which she calls ride-sharing) companies.
Just a few things we had that couldn’t quite make a full story. —People who share “sensitive images”—i.e. pictures of genitals—with children will be subject to a fourth degree felony under a bill passed unanimously by the House Judiciary Committee. Children, Youth and Families Department Secretary Monique Jacobson testified about how a man sharing pictures of a penis with a child got a misdemeanor because prosecutors couldn’t prove that the penis belonged to him. “We want to make clear it’s not OK, whether it’s yours or someone else’s,” she said. —Another proposal to change bail in New Mexico failed in the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee without any discussion.
A bill adding regulations to rideshare companies passed its second House committee unanimously, with uproar coming only from taxi cab lobbyists. The measure would put companies like Uber and Lyft under authority of the state Public Regulation Commission. However, local taxi companies strongly oppose the idea because it wouldn’t subject the rideshare to the same regulations. Specifically, lobbyists for Capital City Cab in Santa Fe and Yellow Cab in Albuquerque lamented how the bill doesn’t subject rideshare services to the state Motor Carriers Act. “They claim they are not subject because they use an app,” Raymond Sanchez, lobbyist for Yellow Cab, told the House Judiciary Committee Thursday afternoon.
Effective immediately, people in Albuquerque are now able to use the ride-hailing app Uber to hitch a ride to the Albuquerque International Sunport. Mayor Richard Berry made the announcement of a deal with Uber Tuesday afternoon, saying that its use is a “disruptive” business model and the way of the future. “The world’s changing,” Berry said in a short press conference in the Sunport’s parking lot. “And we want to make sure those who are here can flourish, but we also want to make sure that we are a city that invites in disruptive new technologies and this is an important step for us as a city.”
The deal between the city and Uber requires that the ride-hailing company pay Albuquerque $1 for every passenger it either picks up from or drops off at the airport. Uber is also required to report its number of airport passengers to the city every 10 days.
Even as a New Mexico court battle looms over regulations for ride-sharing services, a Boston-based lawyer is taking the two main ride-sharing companies to court over a separate issue in California. Earlier this week Business Insider reported that attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan filed suit against Uber and Lyft, the two largest ride sharing services. At issue is whether drivers for the two companies should be classified as employees or contractors. Currently, drivers work as independent contractors. In a phone interview with New Mexico Political Report, Liss-Riordan said her suit is different from the regulation battles in New Mexico and other states, but both issues relate to how the two companies do business.
Public Regulation Commissioner Valerie Espinoza has been an outspoken critic ride sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, getting separate rules and regulations from cab companies. She has said her biggest concern is the safety of New Mexicans who get rides from these companies. Recently, the PRC ruled that these companies, known as Transportation Network Companies, would have to abide by rules written by the PRC in order to continue operating in New Mexico. Lyft viewed the regulation as too much and Uber is still in the middle of a legal battle with the commission. Espinoza was the only member of the PRC to vote against the new regulations, but because she didn’t think they were extensive enough.
Ken is a self-proclaimed “night owl” who spends many weekends driving around the streets of Albuquerque waiting for someone who needs a ride. A realtor by day, he can make up to $700 in three days pulling double duty driving for Lyft and Uber, two ridesharing services currently operating in Albuquerque. He usually starts his nights driving at 8:00 p.m. and calls it quits around 4:00 a.m. He asked not to reveal his last name out of concern that his personal insurance company would increase his rates for driving for a ridesharing company. Last week Ken, along with other drivers who contract with Lyft, received an email from the company stating the service will no longer be available in Albuquerque. Ken, who has been driving with Lyft for a month, said he is disappointed to see the service go, but the money he makes driving is purely supplemental.
The ridesharing company Uber filed a motion on Monday requesting the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to reconsider an action to regulate the company. In the motion, a local subsidiary of Uber argued that the PRC unfairly grouped Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) into the same category as taxi and limousine companies. Hinter-NM, LLC, in the motion, said if the commission creates more regulation for companies like Uber and Lyft, the should recognize a TNC operates differently than other transportation services. From the motion:
The Transportation Network Company (“TNC”) regulations adopted by the Public Regulation (“Commission”) are fundamentally flawed. The Commission should reconsider rules because they are “unlawful, unjust, [and] unreasonable.”
The full motion is available at the bottom of the post.
On Wednesday morning, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sent a hand-delivered letter to the state’s Public Regulation Commission urging members to update regulations for ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft. The commission’s chair says that the issues have already been addressed, though another commissioner who was critical of the rules adopted said otherwise. The companies, also known as Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs, were added by the PRC to the list of transportation companies that are subject to state regulation last week. In his letter to the commission, Balderas said he supported the commission’s action in adding regulations, but that he was concerned with two areas of the new regulation. From the letter:
While I applaud reasonable oversight generally, I have concerns about two areas that may be problematic.