Regulations

California Operators Bring Active Agenda To State Capitol

Jim Luff
Posted on March 17, 2020

GCLA leaders David Kinney, Robert Gaskill, Mo Garkani, Harry Dhillon, Mark Stewart, and Selim Aslan in a hearing room at the State Capitol, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (LCT photo)

GCLA leaders David Kinney, Robert Gaskill, Mo Garkani, Harry Dhillon, Mark Stewart, and Selim Aslan in a hearing room at the State Capitol, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (LCT photo)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A small but mighty group of Greater California Livery Association members showed up at the California State Capitol March 11 to share their concerns with legislators.

The original group of 30 delegates was pared down to 20 as several members were concerned about traveling amid the COVID-19 outbreak or had to tend to their business as a direct result of the pandemic. However, the group managed to divide into small groups to attend about 40 appointments set up by GCLA lobbyist Gregg Cook, head of the Sacramento-based lobbying firm Government Affairs Consulting. The meetings with legislators took place just one day before the Capitol was closed to the public out of an abundance of caution to help contain the virus.

The two-day event kicked off in Cook’s office with a two-hour training session led by former GCLA President David Kinney from API Global. Kinney’s Sacramento based transportation company was instrumental in setting up appointments in conjunction with Cook, as well as providing a contingent of four API staff members. Matt Richardson, advocacy and government affairs director for RAS International, the new management company hired by GCLA, also provided tips and advice on communicating three main issues during the 2020 Legislative Day.

GCLA legislative director Mark Stewart addresses the lobbying group before they split up into teams to visit state legislators. (LCT photo)

GCLA legislative director Mark Stewart addresses the lobbying group before they split up into teams to visit state legislators. (LCT photo)

Following the training session, the group enjoyed a dinner with GCLA’s newly installed executive director, Sara Eastwood-Richardson, former publisher of LCT Magazine. The group was honored to have Sen. Jerry Hill, D-13th District in the San Mateo County area, join the group for dinner. Senator Hill is a personal friend of Kinney and Cook and has a longstanding relationship with the GCLA concerning issues facing the ground transportation industry.

As the Legislative Day officially kicked off in the Capitol, the group was addressed by Ken Bruno, program manager for the Public Utilities Commission. Bruno shared encouraging information about the PUC’s plans to increase enforcement throughout the state such as the recent sting operation coordinated with GCLA. 

Another highlight was a Q&A session with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-80th District, Chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Gonzalez introduced Assembly Bill 5, which passed in September 2019 and required many workers to be classified as employees rather than independent contractors, giving TNC drivers more protections under labor and minimum wage laws. Gonzalez answered questions about industries that were not intended to be caught up in AB-5 such as freelance writers and musicians and the attempts by TNCs to obtain exemptions from the new law.

LCT’s general manager Jim Luff met with Central California legislators and personal friends Sen. Shannon Grove, R-16th District, Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-34th District, and Rudy Salas, D-32nd District, who were all very receptive and understanding of the issues brought forth. Grove sits on the Budget Committee and one of the core messages delivered by GCLA members was the approval of a $2 million budget change proposal within PUC. Fong sits on the budget subcommittee for Resources and Transportation.

There were three primary issues presented on behalf of the 6,000 limousine and sedan operators providing service in California and all of them involved public safety matters.

NO. 1: Passage of PUC’s Budget

Specifically, the Public Utilities Commission Transportation Reimbursement Account (PUCTRA) has a surplus of $50 million. For years, operators have made quarterly payments pursuant to the Public Utilities Code Section 421(a) that requires a fee to be paid by every passenger stage corporation or charter-party carrier of passengers. That money reimburses the state for the cost of enforcing PUC regulations. In other words, the industry pays the PUC to oversee the industry. In 2019, PUCTRA fees were suspended because of the surplus as the state is not allowed to make a profit from taxes. The PUC is requesting to use about $2 million of these funds to hire additional enforcement and administrative staff and GCLA supports this request to make it easier to report illegal operators and process new vehicle paperwork. Historically, it has been nearly impossible to speak to anyone at the PUC for decades. The new budget would be intended to hire 14 new positions.

GCLA legislative leaders Mark Stewart and David Kinney, State Sen. Jerry Hill, GCLA President Mo Garkani, and lobbyist Gregg Cook at the group's annual pre-legislative day dinner in Sacramento, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (LCT photo)

GCLA legislative leaders Mark Stewart and David Kinney, State Sen. Jerry Hill, GCLA President Mo Garkani, and lobbyist Gregg Cook at the group's annual pre-legislative day dinner in Sacramento, Tuesday, March 10, 2020. (LCT photo)

NO. 2: Support for AB 5

The GCLA worked diligently with Gonzalez to make sure AB 5 passed. This was an important step in leveling the playing field between TNCs such as Uber and Lyft and the luxury ground transportation industry. While our industry must pay payroll taxes, provide sick leave, worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, and overtime wages, TNCs previously had no such requirements. AB 5 requires TNC drivers to be treated as employees. As soon as this bill passed, lobbyists for TNC companies descended upon Sacramento to request a so-called “carve-out” that would specifically exempt them from AB 5. Fong reported to Luff, “They arrived in my office one day after the bill passed to ask for a carve-out. The GCLA wanted legislators to know the industry was adamantly opposed to a carve-out.”

NO. 3: Proposed Safety Bills

There are two proposals specifically aimed toward further regulation of TNCs designed to protect the public from unsafe, uninspected, and unsupervised drivers. The two bills are known as “spot bills” which mean the exact language is still being drafted. Nevertheless, the GCLA has pledged support of the two bills.

AB 3303 would require all drivers involved in the transportation of children to have a special license. Under current regulations, drivers engaged in transporting pupils for hire must have a special license after going through a rigorous background check. The licenses are issued by the California Highway Patrol. Because TNCs are mostly unregulated, they are able to drive kids without any scrutiny despite their long history of physical and sexual assaults. While the new law would also affect drivers in the limousine industry, GCLA believes this is good for the safety of all.

AB 3221 would require TNCs to report the number of sexual assaults and violent crimes committed by their drivers or reported by their drivers to have occurred against them. TNCs now refuse to share with government officials how often assaults occur against or by their drivers while standing behind an assertion they are merely a technology company and not legally required to collect such information or share it with anyone. This bill may tie into a statewide registry system that would require all drivers of passenger-carrying vehicles to be registered with the state. This would make it more difficult for someone accused of an assault to simply move on to another company undetected. While this bill may require licensed charter-party carriers to register their drivers, the GCLA believes this is also a bill that should be supported.

GCLA President Mo Garkani and San Diego operator and GCLA leader Selim Aslan meet with Sen. John Moorlach, R-37th District, Orange County, on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (LCT photo)

GCLA President Mo Garkani and San Diego operator and GCLA leader Selim Aslan meet with Sen. John Moorlach, R-37th District, Orange County, on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (LCT photo)

How They Took It

In a debriefing after the day of lobbying, GCLA representatives were filled with hope and optimism. While it is rare to receive a promise or commitment during lobbying efforts, many of the legislators appeared to favor the requests for support. Fong believes AB 5 will be tied up for years as various groups such as realtors, hairdressers, and others caught all ask for special carveouts. He expressed his concern about AB 3220 and the need to document only convictions as opposed to allegations. That was a good sign of support for the passage.

On another positive note, most of the legislators had been visited by GCLA members before and remembered those past visits. “What can I do for you this time?," asked Sen. John Moorlach, R-37th District, of Mo Garkani, president of the GCLA. Moorlach serves Orange County and Garkani operates his business in Orange County. Garkani and Moorlach bantered like a couple of old friends. Moorlach serves on the Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Communications. That committee hears bills relating to for-hire passenger carriers. This is important to note because, in the world of politics, those groups who visit politicians and make themselves heard tend to resonate during committee hearings, budget review processes, and state departments and agencies.

Related Topics: California operators, David Kinney, GCLA, Greater California Livery Association, Gregg Cook, industry politics, Jim Luff, legislation, lobbying, Mo Garkani, regulatory enforcement, state regulations

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