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Senate Judiciary Committee gives big win for ridesharing regulation

Momentum remains strong in Tallahassee for the first bill in Florida to regulate ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the proposal (SB 340) unanimously without debate.

The bill, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, would require ride-sharing companies to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While with a rider, drivers would be required to have $1 million worth of coverage.

It also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

While all indications are the bill will get through the Legislature this spring, opposition from certain groups continues.

Former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, now a lobbyist for the Florida Taxi Association, said the bill would tie the hands of local governments from regulating their own communities. Bogdanoff referenced problems with “exorbitant” numbers of cars circling around Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Port Everglades. She said issues that had been resolved between local governments and Uber and Lyft would be removed from the books, and also acknowledged the cold hard reality of the political calculus this session.

“I realize the train has left the station, or the car has left the Port, or whatever you want to call it,” she said.

Megan Samples, with the Florida League of Cities, again called the bill a pre-emption on local governments, particularly decrying what she said would be looser background checks for ride-sharing drivers.

Rich Templin, representing the Florida AFL-CIO, testified on behalf of the Amalgamated Transit Union. He said he was hoping to draft an amendment before the next stop for the bill that would address additional safety guidelines in the bill, considering that more public transit agencies are working with Uber and Lyft on options like first-mile last mile and paratransit options. He said he was worried the Brandes bill would undue guidelines already in place.

Immediately after the bill’s passage in committee, spokespersons for Uber and Lyft immediately issued statements praising the vote.

“Lyft applauds Chairman Greg Steube and sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes for guiding SB 340 to approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee,” said Chelsea Harrison, communications manager for Lyft.

“This is important legislation that brings Florida one step closer to a consistent statewide framework for innovative services like Lyft,” Harrison added. “Floridians want access to ridesharing, and we look forward to providing the state’s residents and visitors with a safe, reliable transportation option for many years to come.”

“Today’s unanimous vote on Senate Bill 340 by the Senate Committee on Judiciary is a positive indication that Florida lawmakers support the safety, economic, and mobility benefits that come from ridesharing services like Uber,” said Stephanie Smith, Uber’s senior manager for public policy. “We are grateful to all of the Senators who voted ‘yes’ on the bill, with special thanks to Sen. Jeff Brandes … who continues to be a champion for modern transportation options.”

During the past two sessions, the House had pushed similar bills, but the issue tangled up in the Senate, where former President Andy Gardiner wanted to address more narrow issues such as insurance requirements for ridesharing drivers. After Gardiner left office last fall, the way eased a bit in the Legislature’s upper body.

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was 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 and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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