Gold Dome, Peter Blake

Guns and limos: Headed for court

None of it made any difference whatever.

The massive crowds milling in the halls, the sign-wavers outside, the honking horns driving by the statehouse, the biplane flying a banner overhead, the hundreds who spent hours waiting to give no more than three minutes of emotional testimony …

(Oh, the time limit was waived if you were an “expert” witness, which apparently didn’t mean you had to know what was in the bill, as former astronaut Mark Kelly demonstrated.)

Vegas wasn’t taking bets on these votes. Every member of the Senate State Affairs and Judiciary committees voted exactly as expected on all seven gun control bills. The three Democrats on each were for them, the two Republicans against.

The process will be repeated on the Senate floor Friday, when the seven are tentatively scheduled to be debated. If it’s like the debate three weeks ago on the four gun bills that originated in the House, the wrangling will last deep into the night, just like Monday’s committee meetings.

But no minds will be changed. Two Democrats may have already decided to defect on some of the bills, but even if they do, there will still be the necessary 18 for passage.

The only modicum of suspense might be on Senate President John Morse’s maladroit S.B. 196, which would stick “assault”-type gun manufacturers and sellers with strict liability if the weapon is subsequently involved in a crime. A third Democrat might defect on it, but if not, the bill could still face trouble when it goes to the House, where Morse isn’t president — or at the governors’ desk.

Otherwise, no surprises. Opinions have long been set in stone. No legislator will say, “your testimony is so compelling I’ve changed my mind.” The outcome is foreordained.

It might save time, trouble and tempers if those who believe some of the bills violate the Second Amendment were able to take them straight to court instead of waiting for the legislative process to play out.

Maybe the pro-gun forces should consult with bikers. Twenty years ago, when some lawmakers still had the will to introduce helmet laws, the motorcycle crowd showed up at the capitol in droves — and got the bills defeated. Indeed there hasn’t been a serious anti-helmet bill introduced since. Bikers know how to kill things besides themselves.

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Speaking of issues that are going to end up in court, Uber Technologies will try to defend itself at a Public Utilities Commission hearing Monday.

The hearing involves proposed operating rules that would effectively drive Uber, which operates in 29 cities worldwide, out of business in Denver. The rules were inspired by the taxi companies, who don’t like the fact Uber, which began service here last fall, competes by charging more than they do.

Who but the PUC would provide a forum for complaints about reverse “predatory pricing.”

Uber is a software company that has developed an app for smartphones that enables those seeking transportation to summon a luxury limousine or fancy SUV that may be nearby. It owns no vehicles, but it contracts with limousine company “partners” whose vehicles and drivers meet PUC standards. The limo provides an estimated — but not exact — price, which can vary depending on weather, route and traffic. No money changes hands. Fares and tips are put on the customer’s credit card.

The PUC, heeding the taxi oligopoly’s complaints, proposed new rules that would require Uber to seek a hard-to-get permit as a “motor carrier”; establish a fixed price for every customer, no matter what the conditions; stay at least 200 feet from every hotel, bar and restaurant in Denver — and impose big fines for violations.

Briefs filed by Uber in advance of the hearing allege, among other things, that the legislature has already defined “motor carrier” and the PUC is not entitled to change the definition by rule. If the “incumbent interests” opposed to Uber want to change it, they should go to the General Assembly.

What’s more, the new requirement for the customer and limo to agree on “a specific price” prior to departure is stricter than the current rule, which specifies a “prearranged price.” But that’s an undefined term that could vary depending on changes in time and distance. Uber, through attorneys Greg Sopkin and Ray Gifford, notes that even non-Uber limos do adjust prices.

Screenshot of Uber smartphone app

Besides, they add, limo prices are not regulated by the PUC.

The administrative law judge holding the hearing will eventually issue a decision, which, after an appeals period, will go to the full three-member PUC. From there the dispute well may end up in the Colorado Supreme Court.

We can hope that the new competition inspired by new technology wins out. But the underlying problem is that the entire lawyer-laden regulatory process for transportation exists at all. There need be no governmental body that determines whether a company has the right to provide or arrange transportation. It’s not a natural monopoly.

The market is always changing, and players need to be able to meet the changing conditions quickly. Regulation always involves lawyers, who tend to be expensive. That drives up prices. Government’s role need be nothing more than seeing to it that a carrier is safe and insured.

Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at pblake0705@comcast.net You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com

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