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Uber’s fortunes uncertain as House, Senate gear up for ride sharing fight

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With just six days before end of regular legislative business this Session, the House and Senate are still troublesomely far apart on legislation regarding the popular ride sharing apps Uber and Lyft, particularly if you’re an advocate for the expansion of “transportation network companies” as they are rendered in committee-speak.

The Senate today passed SB 1298 by Altamonte Springs Sen. David Simmons which would increase insurance requirements beyond the now-voluntary insurance policies already they already carry.

Support for the bill came well short of a consensus, though it did carry the day by a 28-12 vote.

Democratic Sens. Oscar Braynon – whose father drives an Uber in Miami – and Audrey Gibson joined nine Republicans, including Bill Galvano in opposing the bill. Sen. Eleanor Sobel switched her vote from ‘Yea’ to ‘Nay’ after the roll call vote, belatedly signaling even greater Democratic support for Uber in the Senate.

Support from the minority is absent though in the House, where Democrats voted in lock-step for an amendment by Rep. Kathleen Peters to further regulate ride sharing insurance on Thursday, which passed despite several ‘No’ votes from Republicans.

Rep. Matt Gaetz‘s bill, HB 817, to preempt local restrictions on Uber and thereby legalize it throughout the state is alive and well, however.

It passed on 2nd reading before the full House today,and rolled over for a 3rd following the adoption of adverse proposals by Reps. Peters and Mike Miller, who attached language requiring a level 2 background check for Uber and Lyft applicants, which would disqualify many would-be drivers and hinder ride sharing firms. It comes up for a final vote on Friday.

Therein lies a source of conflict in the coming days as the Senate bill moves through messages to the House for consideration.

The House jettisoned a companion bill to Simmons’ early on in the process, never allowing it to be heard in any committee.

Speaker Steve Crisafulli stopped short of making support for pro-Uber legislation a caucus mandate, but has indicated his strong support for a law to bolster ride sharing, calling it “inevitable” back in March.

SaintPetersBlog is hearing that Gaetz will almost certainly offer an amendment when the Simmons bill comes through that would significant push back against the limitations placed on ride sharing in Simmons’ insurance bill.

Gaetz, backed by the Speaker, seems poised to stand his ground on local preemption in order create a friendly regulatory environment for the burgeoning technology.

That position is diametrically opposed to President Andy Gardiner – who has deep ties to Orlando transportation giant Mears Transportation  and his right-hand man Rules Chair Simmons who is carrying that legislative water ably.

The Senate leadership is increasingly playing hard ball in an effort to stifle Uber’s growth and protect industry incumbents sets up another bicameral showdown in the final weeks of 2015 legislative Session.

Whether some House Democrats leak out from their current stance with them to form a pro-ride sharing coalition to win the day is an open question, but it could be decisive in settling this legislative food fight.

As time goes on and Uber and Lyft become more of a staple in densely populated urban areas in Florida, even taxi cab diehards might grant that the House bill with its background checks and annual Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles among other checks on ride sharing is about as good a deal as they will get, especially as influence of the aforementioned Uber rider Galvano grows.

Both sides indicate support for coming to some agreement, probably a wise idea for all parties involved. Whether they can get it done in the next six days is about as certain as the time when the Sine Die hanky will hit the rotunda floor.

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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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