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Senate Uber insurance bill advances with new tweaks amid debate

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With a newfound emphasis on a ridesharing scourge sponsor state Sen. David Simmons called “rogue drivers,” a bill to require greater insurance coverage for Uber and Lyft continued along its road this afternoon in the Senate.

Simmons’ SB 1298 — which also deals with short-term property rental companies like Airbnb, another facet of the emerging “sharing economy” — passed after the adoption of three amendments this afternoon.

The debate took on a new tinge, however, as the better part of today’s ridesharing discussion focused on an illicit practice that Simmons alleges is common. Many drivers flout the rules by going “off the app” with riders, i.e. forming informal relationships wherein they arrange to exchange cash for rides without activating the operative smartphone app that signals the beginning of a commercial agreement governed by current ridesharing rules.

Use of the app does not only trigger a fee for Uber as a middle man, which takes a fee from the transaction: It also also triggers specific insurance coverage that kicks in when a passenger is present and engaged in an official ridesharing transaction.

That issue was resolved — for the Senate version at least — by way of a Simmons-sponsored amendment to his own bill that would require commercial levels of coverage on  vehicles that host Uber rides whether they are technically pursuing a fare at the time or not.

Several senators referred to an “equalized” or “level playing field” that this arrangement would create for ridesharing operators with regard to their competitors in the taxi cab and limousine industry. But a level playing field is something Uber has explicitly pushed back against. They say they are different and require different treatment under Florida insurance law. But Simmons emphasized that “The beauty of the way this bill is done, it doesn’t make a distinction. We don’t distinguish” between the two endeavors.

The adoption of late-filed amendments on the Senate floor today also creates an imbalance with the state Rep. Bill Hager’s HB 757,  the House companion to Simmons’ measure. That bill appears dead for this year’s session, though its language could switch vehicles to find a somewhat difficult path to passage by an amendatory process.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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