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Steve Crisafulli advocates for ride-sharing legislation in opening-day speech

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Opening the 2016 Legislative Session Tuesday, Speaker Steve Crisafulli listed the priorities that he expects the House to focus on in 2016.

That included an endorsement of Gov. Rick Scott‘s goal of cutting taxes by $1 billion, something that Senate members have expressed discomfort with. He also put in a good word for legislation that would regulate ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

“Let’s put the free market to work for Florida families,” he said in his speech. “Let’s cut red tape and create forward-looking, predictable regulatory frameworks to give companies like Uber and Lyft and other disruptive technologies their day in the sun. Florida should be a state where our regulations welcome innovation, not discourage people from finding new and better ways of doing things. If people in Orlando or Miami or Tallahassee want Chair Workman to be their Uber driver, then we should give them that freedom.”

That was a reference to House Rules Committee Ritch Workman from Melbourne, who took a side job as a driver for Uber last year.

Crisafulli’s comments are his most enthusiastic yet about backing a bill that would regulate the ridesharing companies that have been operating in Florida for the past couple of years with no state or local regulations.

Controversy in some local communities has followed Uber and Lyft since they began operating in Florida, however, particularly in Hillsborough and Broward counties.

Uber pulled out of Broward on July 31 to protest the county’s new regulations, which included fingerprint-based FBI background checks and a geography test for drivers.

After harsh criticism from constituents who professed their love for Uber and Lyft, though, the Broward County Commission reversed course in October and dropped the requirements.

In Hillsborough, the county’s Public Transportation Commission has resumed issuing citations against Uber and Lyft drivers for driving without permits, while litigation continues between the county and the two companies. The PTC curtailed issuing those citations as a statement of good will last fall, saying they would hold off on passing any regulations until the Legislature addressed the issue in the Session that began Tuesday.

Last month, the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation approved a measure sponsored by Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson that would establish a new regulatory framework for allowing Uber and Lyft to operate legally in the county.

Those lawmakers said that they hoped the Legislature would approve a statewide bill during the current session. A bill has been introduced by Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz in the House (HB 509) would set insurance requirements for transportation-service drivers while they are logged on, require prospective drivers to undergo criminal background checks and prohibit local governments from imposing their own rules on the app-based companies as they do now for taxi companies and limousine services. The legislation passed in the House Highway and Waterway Safety Subcommittee last month. It’s scheduled to be debated in the House Economics Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

It lacks a Senate sponsor, though, and the perception is that it won’t get much support in that part of the Legislature

“Florida should be a state where our regulations welcome innovation, not discourage people from finding new and better ways of doing things,” Crisafulli said Tuesday. Whether that will translate finally into a statewide policy regarding Uber and Lyft is uncertain.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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