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Jeff Brandes says regulations for Uber could surface in special session

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As of early Friday afternoon, the ride-sharing app Uber had garnered over 25,000 signatures on its website petitioning state lawmakers to address regulation issues regarding transportation network companies (TNC) when they convene in a special session next month. And one influential Republican says he wouldn’t be surprised to see such legislation brought up when the House and Senate regroup three weeks from this coming Monday.

“I won’t count out Uber for the special session,” said St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. “I think you’re going to see transportation-related proposals included in the call for special session.”

Representatives from the taxi and limousine industries throughout Florida cheered the news last week when they learned that the Legislature wouldn’t be voting on a proposed TNC regulatory bill. Their side caught a break when the House opted to break early last week, leaving hundreds of bills in limbo.

Although legislation regulating ride-sharing companies moved through the House and the Senate shared some similarities this session, they also had some significant differences. Both bills would require the ride-sharing companies to provide at least $1 million in liability coverage for death, bodily injury and property damage while passengers are in the vehicles, which are not owned by the companies but by the drivers. But they differed regarding overall insurance coverage.

Altamonte Springs Republican Dave Simmons was pushing the bill in the Senate. His legislation would require the ride-sharing companies to provide separate insurance coverage for “on-call” time, when “a driver is using the application to find passengers but has not accepted a ride request.”

Brandes says his objections to Simmons’ legislation is that it treats ride-sharing drivers differently than other drivers in the state.

“To me you should have the same amount of insurance if you don’t have a passenger in the car, whether you’re delivering pizza or packages or you’re on the Uber app waiting to pick up a passenger,” he says. “There should be one level of coverage for that, but if you have a passenger in the car, there should be a different level of coverage.”

Brandes believes that Uber and Lyft drivers need to pay the same amount of insurance as would taxi cab operators. “My concerns with this bill is that we’re kind of treating taxi-cab passengers as second-class citizens when it comes to insurance coverage under his legislation,” he says.

Those ride-sharing companies have been at war with regulators in Hillsborough County for over a year now, with no end in sight. Earlier this week a Hillsborough County hearing officer upheld a citation against Lyft that was originally written last December. Hearing officer Susan More rejected Lyft’s arguments that it is not a transportation-for-hire company, but actually a technology application that serves as a conduit between drivers and passengers.

But More wasn’t buying it, and said that her ruling would also apply to the 38 other tickets that agents with the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission issued against Lyft drivers last year.

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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