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Ride-sharing bill advances in House Economics committee

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A bill that would create statewide regulations for transportation network companies (TNCs) passed through the House Economics Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

This is the third year in a row that such legislation has come before Florida lawmakers.  Cities and counties creating their own rules on dealing with companies such as Uber and Lyft are applying more pressure than ever on the Legislature to craft an all-encompassing statewide bill.

As was the case in 2015, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz is shepherding the bill in the state House. Several members of the committee applauded him for making improvements from last year’s bill, such as on strengthening insurance requirements for TNC drivers.

A controversial provision that remains in the bill is how the state would pre-empt local governments from enforcing regulations.

“Often times we hear around here that the state should have the ability to make their choice, ” said Tallahassee Democratic Rep. Alan Williams regarding the Legislature’s quarrels with the federal government in terms of autonomy. “I’m going to transfer that to the state being the big brother, and the cities being the little brother. And I believe that those cities should have that choice.”

Williams voted against the bill.

St. Petersburg Republican Kathleen Peters saids she loves Uber and supported it in the committee vote, but was unhappy that the legislation still doesn’t require TNC drivers to submit to fingerprinting in background checks.

“In the state of Florida we have made the Level 2 fingerprint background the standard for safety when it comes to teachers, coaches, nurses, massage therapists and even taxi drivers,” she said, calling the provisions in the Gaetz bill more cumbersome and expensive than doing a Level 2 check.

Florida Taxi Association lobbyist Ellyn Bogdanoff said her organization’s main objective is that there be parity between the cab industry and the TNC’s. “Right now, there is no parity, and it’s much more costly for the taxi’s to insure than the TNC’s.”

The Taxi Association also objects to provisions that require ride-sharing companies to pay the state $5,000 annually for enforcement, saying that should go to the local communities where Uber and Lyft operate.

There were several Uber drivers who spoke in support of the bill.

“We are optimistic that today’s bipartisan vote on the passage of HB 509 by the Florida House Economic Affairs Committee is a positive indication that Florida lawmakers understand the economic, transportation access, and safety benefits that come from ridesharing services like Uber,” said Uber spokesman Bill Gibbons.

Logan McFaddin, with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, waived in support of the bill during the hearing and released a statement immediately after its passage:

“PCI supports HB 509 because it ensures rideshare drivers have adequate insurance coverage from the time the app is turned on until the app is turned off. Currently, there are 29 states that have enacted laws to protect not only their drivers, but their passengers and the public by closing the insurance gaps that left drivers vulnerable if an accident were to occur. Without this legislation, TNC drivers may not be covered by their insurance policy, unless they have commercial coverage.”

The legislation will now advance to the floor of the House of Representatives. It has no Senate companion bill.

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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