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The fight within the California Democratic Party over Uber and Lyft

 (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)
(Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)

The intense debate within California’s Democratic Party over Uber and Lyft was laid bare Tuesday morning when a bill that would ease regulations for ride-hailing companies from Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) advanced out a state Senate committee over the intense objection from committee Chairman Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego).

Low’s bill would exempt ride-hailing drivers from having to purchase commercial license plates, a savings of up to $80 a year per driver depending on car size. He argued that Uber drivers pick up customers in the same car that they pick up their kids from school and shouldn’t have to pay the fee.

But Hueso saw the bill as just another attempt in the Legislature at undermining the taxi industry to pump up Uber and Lyft.

“You’re looking to give them an economic advantage in an environment where they have every single advantage given to them,” Hueso said.

He then ripped into Low for not exempting taxis from the same requirement and questioned why the state should forgo as much as $5 million in lost revenue from Uber and Lyft drivers.

“Why is it important, in your mind, that people engaged in commercial activity not have to pay a commercial fee?” Hueso asked.

This confrontation has been a long time coming. Low’s bill sailed through the Assembly last year with little opposition, but Hueso didn’t hold a hearing on it, preventing it from moving forward. Hueso is considered ride-hailing companies’ biggest opponent at the Capitol.

He also has worked in his family’s taxi business, and his brothers now own the largest cab company in San Diego. The Times and others have written extensively about Hueso’s taxi connections , and during the hearing, Hueso accused the ride-hailing industry of feeding the media stories.

The commercial license plate issue in particular has family ties. The company owned by Hueso’s brothers sued the state last year trying to force the Department of Motor Vehicles to require commercial plates for ride-hailing drivers. The case since has been dismissed.

Last week during a Senate floor debate on bills tied to the state budget, Hueso criticized Gov. Jerry Brown for supporting an exemption to ride-hailing drivers’ getting commercial plates.

“There isn’t a bill in support of [Uber and Lyft] that this governor won’t sign,” Hueso said during Tuesday’s hearing. “And there isn’t a bill that this Legislature won’t support.”

Aside from Hueso, two other Democrats, Sen. Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills and Sen. Connie Leyva of Chino, voted against the bill at the hearing.

Ride-hailing companies have had significant success in recent years in Sacramento because younger and Silicon Valley-area Democrats such as Low have aligned with the companies .

UPDATE 3:54 p.m.: This story has been updated to correctly identify Sen. Connie Leyva's district.

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