TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has written to New Jersey lawmakers on behalf of Uber to argue against the use of fingerprint-based background checks as the state considers how to regulate ride-hailing service drivers.
New Jersey lawmakers are debating two different bills to regulate the industry. A state Assembly measure includes the fingerprint requirement, while a state Senate version would require checks without fingerprinting.
Holder wrote last week that because of deficiencies in the FBI's database, fingerprint checks can prevent people from getting jobs even if they were never convicted of crimes. He said requiring fingerprint checks can discriminate against minorities.
Holder's firm advises the San Francisco-based company on safety matters and Uber asked him to write the letter, according to company spokesman Craig Ewer.
The purpose of the FBI database is to aid law enforcement during investigations and investigators are expected to follow up on information to determine whether it is complete, Holder wrote.
"It was not designed to be used to determine whether or not someone is eligible for a work opportunity. Relying on it for that purpose is both unwise and unfair," he said in the letter to New Jersey Sen. Paul Sarlo, chairman of the committee weighing the measure. The rest of the Legislature was copied in on the message.
Sarlo said Holder's letter "definitely has some influence and I think the committee is weighing that letter."
Sarlo said regulation of the industry is needed and must include background checks, but lawmakers are still debating whether to include fingerprinting. He said he's hopeful to have a measure passed this month.
Uber and Lyft, also based in San Francisco, both recently pulled out of Austin, Texas, after the city passed an ordinance requiring the checks. Uber's drivers are required to go through fingerprint background checks in New York City as part of individual licensing with the city.
The Limousine Association of New Jersey has come out strongly in favor of the fingerprint background checks, arguing in a statement this week that they are "a must to adequately protect the riding public."
Ana Mahony, general manager of Uber Technologies in New Jersey, told lawmakers at a Monday committee hearing on the Senate measure that fingerprint-based background checks are flawed and incomplete.
State Sen. Anthony Bucco, a Republican from Morris County, told Mahony he couldn't support the regulation without the fingerprint check. He said he "can't understand your objections to fingerprinting" and noted that even Little League coaches are fingerprinted in New Jersey.
Sarlo delayed a vote on the Senate bill until he could speak with sponsors of the Assembly measure.