Uber bill makes last stand in Florida Senate

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A leading state senator Thursday yanked his bill that would have benefited ride-booking services such as Uber and Lyft, saying there was no compromise that pleased everyone involved, including the House.

State Sen. David Simmons, the chamber’s Rules chairman, had worked on the bill (SB 1118) for months. It would have mandated minimum commercial insurance requirements for drivers with Uber and similar app-based companies, known as “transportation network companies.”

The House passed its own bill (HB 509) last month that addressed insurance but also included a provision that is anathema in the Senate: Blocking local authorities, such as the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, from regulating the services and instead reserving that power to the state.

In explaining the impasse, Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican, used the example of an Uber driver in Miami who drives to Palm Beach late at night to drop off a passenger, then heads back to Miami.

Uber argued that that driver is essentially “off the clock” – or “off the app” – and doesn’t need commercial insurance for that part of the drive. Simmons disagreed.

The driver is “on the job, he’s driving back and he needs to be covered,” he said. “The citizens of Florida are at great risk – massive risk, as a matter of fact – and something needs to be done … The state of Florida is not providing a solution.”

Simmons said he met “hours upon hours” with Uber, Lyft, taxicab companies, insurers, and made “massive amounts of attempts” to come up with language that worked for all. It didn’t happen.

“So we have a lack of solution and no protection,” he said, temporarily postponing the measure, a move that this late in the process sends it to legislative purgatory.

The 2016 Legislative Session is on track to end Friday, though senators had yet to take up the 2016-17 state budget as of late Thursday. The House separately began its consideration earlier in the day.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.