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Lawmakers see mixed success on bills filed after UofSC student’s murder

Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 10:00 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 19, 2021 at 11:25 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Monday, the trial of Samantha Josephson’s alleged killer began.

However, the legislative consequences have been playing out since her death.

In the immediate aftermath, State Rep. Seth Rose, D-Five Points, and a bipartisan group of eight other lawmakers filed the Samantha L. Josephson Ridesharing Safety Act.

“The biggest thing that I saw was this tragic incident really brought a lot of awareness to the dangers of rideshare safety. I know for me personally, if I’m using a rideshare before I wouldn’t necessarily pay as much attention to the license plate or ask the driver for my name or all these other things,” he said.

“Now that is happening, I am paying attention, I think everyone is paying attention.”

Rose’s bill made it a crime for people to impersonate rideshare drivers and required drivers to display their license plate on the front of the vehicle.

The bill was introduced in early April 2020 and by mid-June, it was in effect. It passed the House 99 to 1 with only Rep. Mandy Kimmons (R - Dorchester and Colleton Counties) dissenting. It received unanimous support in the Senate.

“More than anything, I think this was a horrific instance and people wanted their elected officials to respond, and do something to help. I think we did do that,” Rose said.

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In Congress, a bill to regulate ride-sharing companies fell short. Congressman Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey) represents Josephson’s hometown and filed Sami’s Law in October 2019.

It passed the U.S. House, and arrived in the U.S. Senate in July 2020 but did not receive a vote.

WIS has requested an interview with Rep. Smith with his office. He refiled the bill in February 2021. A press release from the office states:

“We must establish safety protocols and accountability in the system to protect rideshare customers who remain extremely vulnerable,” said Smith, who represents Sami’s hometown of Robbinsville, NJ. “As the nation looks to emerge from COVID restrictions, there will likely be a surge in travel and general activities, and thus a corresponding urgency to protect those who rely on Uber and Lyft services.”

It continues by highlighting the bill’s impacts:

  • establishes a 17-member advisory council that reports to the Secretary of Transportation—SAMI’s Council—comprised of federal agency and public stakeholders to advance safety standards in the rideshare industry;
  • makes it unlawful to sell, or offer for sale, ride-share signage, making it more difficult for imposters like Sami’s murderer to pose as a driver;
  • requires a GAO report on the incidence of assault and abuse of both passengers and drivers;
  • requires that the GAO also examine the nature and specifics of “background” checks conducted by companies and the varying standards set by States regarding background checks.

South Carolina Congressmen Jim Clyburn and Joe Wilson co-sponsored the original version of the bill and the 2021 version.

Wilson’s office sent a statement reading:

“I cosponsored ‘Sami’s Law’ so that no family endures a tragedy like Samantha Josephson’s murder ever again. I am grateful that this bill establishes needed protections for ride-sharing customer across the country and makes it easier for a rider to identify ride-sharing cars.”

Clyburn’s office sent a 2019 release and video showing the Congressman supporting the law before the House passed it.

He stated in part:

“I want to thank my colleagues in advance of their votes, hopefully in favor of this legislation, that will allow Sami’s legacy and enacts important safeguards to protect rideshare users from predatory behavior.”

The 2021 bill has not made it out of committee. WIS requested a comment from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.

Rose said his bill faced pushback and said expects a similar situation played out in Congress.

“Was I surprised that in Congress there was a speedbump that was hit? Absolutely not, because as I said these companies have very strong lobbies and they fought back on changes they didn’t want to see happen,” he said.

Lyft sent a statement reading:

“Safety is fundamental to Lyft, which is why we’re always investing in new features and policies to protect drivers and riders. We will continue to work with safety experts as we seek to tackle complex issues and enhance safety across the transportation industry.”

Uber has not responded to a request for comment.

The South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff announced in late June it would audit information rideshare companies give to the state about their drivers during July and August.

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