Uber – Florida Politics

Blake Dowling: After Uber tragedy, safety is job one for self-driving cars

Legislation, innovation and deployment of autonomous vehicles hit a significant roadblock this week. A very tragic incident in Arizona involving a self-driving Uber vehicle and a pedestrian killed the pedestrian.

The goal of self-driving vehicles is to make our lives easier and roads safer. Self-driving cars do not get drunk or speed, so the 40,000 traffic fatalities each year would be reduced considerably if the world was full of these machines.

However, in this case, all detection systems apparently failed, and the ultimate backup (the human in the car) was not paying attention. At any time, the theory goes, this person could have hit the brakes and take over if the auto driving system needs overriding.

In Florida, Ford is launching a test program this year for self-driving cars. The goal is to have a self-driving taxi and delivery service in place by 2021. Domino’s Pizza is getting into the game as a partner.

There are lots to factor into the logistics, but safety is No. 1; if they can’t figure that out, none of this is going to happen.

Ford sunk $1 billion into the effort and it will be housed in Miami. Why Florida? 1.) It is a traffic nightmare, so if they can figure out Southbeach it can work anywhere, right? 2.) For years, Florida has stated it is not California and has a “bring it on” approach to this new business model. In fact, the state was a very early adopter of providing a friendly staging ground for this kind of tech.

Go back to 2012, when Google dropped off two autonomous vehicles at the Florida Capitol requested by Sen. Jeff Brandes. Test drives were done with the elected officials and their families, and the buzz was in the air. Shortly afterward, HB 7027 passed 118-0 — the first legislation in our great country to legalize self-driving vehicles on our roads.

The national landscape has caught up, last year 33 states introduced legislation on the subject. You can follow all the details on the subject here.

It is exciting technology but not without scandal, as we saw Uber in the headlines earlier this year, and (sadly) the story of this transportation revolution now has a tragedy on its hands.

Those R and D dollars need to be devoted to safety first, as clearly more redundancy in the tech is required to prevent another situation like that in Arizona this week.

Be safe out there; enjoy your weekend.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Ballard Partners snags last-minute tax package tweak to help web-based client

The lobbying powerhouse Ballard Partners swayed lawmakers to add a new section to the state’s labor law that mirrors the exact business model of one of its online-based clients.

Handy Technologies, Inc., which hired Ballard Partners, will directly benefit from a last-minute add on to the tax cut package championed by Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley.

The amendment language clarifies that those hired to do work through an online-based or mobile-app company are treated as independent contractors and not employees, and lists the exact household and handyman work services offered by Handy Technologies.

The change will not change workers’ compensation or healthcare requirements for those who currently receive them. It would just clarify that if an online-company is not paying those now to a contract worker, it doesn’t have to pay them in the future.

“We are pleased the Legislature continued to support the emerging marketplace contractor economy,” said Chris Dorworth, who is representing Handy Technologies as a registered lobbyist for Ballard Partners.

Uber is also in support of the change.

Bradley said he did meet with the firm and that the intent of the amendment is meant to clarify a “disguise in existing law” and would encourage “free-flow economic activity” in the state.

“I spoke with that firm, but it is consistent with where I have stood in this issues, like I have with Uber,” Bradley said.

“It was a natural fit for me,” he added.

Bottoms up: Bevy of booze bills ready for vote in House

A raft of House bills related to alcoholic beverages, including one dealing with booze-delivery apps, were discussed Wednesday and set up for votes.

Among them, one (HB 667) would expressly allow Floridians to use a smartphone app to order alcoholic beverages for home delivery. It’s supported by Uber, among others.

Delivery through apps such as Drizly and Shipt is already available in the state, but “current law does not address orders received via the internet or other electronic forms of communication,” a staff analysis said.

The Senate companion (SB 1020) has cleared its committees and is ready for the floor.

Another measure (HB 961) would allow beer distributors to give away for free glasses printed with product names and logos—also known as “branded glassware”—to bars and restaurants. Under current law, glasses must be sold.

This is the second year the bill’s been filed, stoking controversy each time.

Those in favor, including small businesses, say it’ll be a help to them to cut down on glasses lost from theft and breakage.

Opponents, including many craft brewers, have countered they won’t be able to afford to keep up with the stream of free glasses from Anheuser-Busch InBev, the makers of Bud Light and Stella Artois.

A Senate companion (SB 1224) also is ready for the floor there.

Still another bill (HB 669) would permit beer advertisements in theme parks, also the second year the bill’s been up.

It too caused controversy, with critics saying it would allow theme parks to “extort” ad dollars from beer companies and ultimately favor Big Beer manufacturers who can pay to put up the biggest and most ads.

Beer makers also could sponsor concerts, other events or attractions at parks. It’s supported by SeaWorld and Universal Orlando.

A Senate companion (SB 822) still has to clear the Rules Committee and is set for hearing there Thursday.

After high-profile data breaches, legislators want to toss credit freeze fees

In the wake of recent high-profile data breaches compromising the information of thousands of Floridians, legislators and cabinet members on Wednesday advocated for two bills that would eliminate credit report freeze fees for consumers.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam are backing two measures proposed in the Legislature, which they say would toss a “fundamentally unfair burden” to victims of identity theft.

“When our citizens have their information violated, those credit rating agencies have the ability to implement an up to $10 freeze fee to protect their credit from something that was out of their control,” Patronis said. “That is unacceptable.”

Patronis, who is running for a second term as CFO, touted Putnam as an “outstanding advocate” of the effort. Putnam is currently in the run to be the next governor.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas County Republican, is leading the fight to put an end to these fees in the Senate. While his bill awaits committee referrals, the companion House bill sponsored by state Rep. Shawn Harrison is up for a hearing Wednesday.

In recent months, the state has had its fair share of data breaches including one by Uber, which is currently under investigation by Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office. The information of at least 32,000 Uber drivers in the state may have been compromised during a 2016 hack.

Most recently, though, the state Agency of Health Care Administration said the personal and medical information of up to 31,000 may have been accessed after an employee opened a malicious email last November.

Patronis said Miami, Naples and Tallahassee are the state’s hot spots for identity theft.

Email insights: Uber, MADD offer tips for a happy, safe New Year’s Eve

With New Year’s Eve only a couple of days away, Uber is reminding users that the best ridesharing customers are living ridesharing customers.

In a new email, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is joining Uber to call on users to “commit to being a #DesignatedRider by planning ahead to avoid drinking and driving.”

Nearly 29 people in the United States die every day in alcohol-impaired vehicle accidents. That’s one person every 50 minutes in 2016, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures. And the holidays account for a significant number of drunken driving fatalities. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve in 2016, 891 drunken driving fatalities occurred across the country — 26 percent of all traffic deaths.

Technology is making it easier than ever to get a safe ride home. Uber — as the designated driver for holiday celebrations — can effectively decrease the number of drunken driving deaths.

“We expect dedicated designated riders this holiday season to contribute to our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving, which is essential in saving lives,” said MADD Interim CEO Vicki Knox. “With non-drinking friends, public transportation, and rideshare services like Uber available as designated drivers, there is no reason to drive drunk.”

“Driving under the influence is absolutely preventable and we want to urge everyone this holiday season to plan ahead and choose a safe ride home,” said Uber Florida General Manager Kasra Moshkani. “Uber is committed to helping people make smart choices and we thank our local law enforcement and MADD partners, as well as our driver-partners, for all they do to help keep the roads safe during this holiday season.”

In addition, MADD volunteers nationwide are offering tips for the safest holiday season, with Uber (of course):

— It Just Takes One Drink, So Plan Ahead — After just one drink, your ability to make the right decisions diminishes significantly. Even small amounts of alcohol can reduce your ability to drive safely. Have a plan to get home safely before your night starts.

— Use Rideshare, Public Transit or Get a Designated Driver — Don’t take the chance. Leave the keys behind if you know you will be drinking.

— Create a Rideshare Account Before You Leave The House — Don’t wait to sign up for rideshare apps like Uber for your first trip after you are out. Uber and MADD suggest downloading the app and sign up first, before you hit the parties.

MADD is also offering an online safe party guide.

Jim Rosica’s review of top state government stories of 2017

Spoiler alert: If you’re a regular of this site, and reading this story, you can guess what the #1 pick is.

Otherwise, 2017 still offered a bounty of material to Tallahassee’s reporting ranks. We still chuckle at the uninitiated who ask, “What do you write about when the Legislature isn’t in session?”

Without further ado, here’s the admittedly subjective list of the Top 10 (and a half) stories to come out of the Capitol in the Year That Was:

#10 — State finally passes ride-sharing legislation: After years of trying, lawmakers OK’d, and Gov. Rick Scott signed, a bill (HB 221) creating statewide regulations for ride-booking companies like Uber and Lyft. In fact, lawmakers had considered such legislation for four years before passing a bill this year.

The legislation, among other things, requires Uber, Lyft and similar “transportation network companies” to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged into the app, but hasn’t yet secured a passenger. When a driver gets a ride, they need to have $1 million in coverage.

The bill also requires companies to have third parties run criminal background checks on drivers. It also pre-empts local ordinances and other rules on transportation network companies, or TNCs.

The losers? Local governments, whose attempts to regulate or rein in ride-share got pre-empted, and, well, taxi companies.

#9 — Rick Scott, Aramis Ayala and the debate over the death penalty: Ayala, a Democrat and the Orlando area’s top prosecutor, enraged Scott and conservative lawmakers when she announced in March she would not seek capital punishment in any murder cases.

Scott, a Naples Republican, began unilaterally reassigning death penalty-eligible cases to another state attorney. Republican Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs called for Ayala to be removed from office for dereliction of duty.

The controversy made it to the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled Scott has the authority to transfer murder cases away because she refuses to pursue death. Ayala, elected in 2016, responded by announcing she would set up a special panel to review the death penalty’s appropriateness of each case.

But as of this month, Ayala and Scott were still sniping, with the governor accusing her of missing a deadline and blowing a capital punishment prosecution. Ayala denied that but did cut a plea deal with Emerita Mapp, in which she pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence for a Kissimmee slaying.

#8 — Puerto Rico migration could remake Central Florida: With many still without power after Hurricane Maria slammed the island in September, more than 250,000 residents of Puerto Rico have now decamped to Florida, most to the Central Florida region, with one advocate calling it a “migration of biblical proportions.”

Curbed said the “sudden influx will also put pressure on housing, social services, and the job market that have yet to be fully addressed by state, local, and federal officials.”

But Scott ordered the opening of “disaster relief centers” providing state services to thousands. Cortes filed a bill to address housing needs for evacuees. Sen. Vic Torres, a Kissimmee Democrat, pressed FEMA to provide more housing relief. U.S. Reps. Darren SotoStephanie Murphy, and Dennis Ross co-signed a letter to the feds for Florida get its full funding as a host state to support the migration.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is working on a plan to allow Puerto Rican high schoolers to receive Puerto Rico diplomas in Florida, in case they can’t meet Florida’s graduation requirements. And those are just a few examples.

#7 — The fight over HB 7069: The wide-ranging education law passed this May — a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran — has been called a “brew of bad policy” and “a textbook example of a failure in government transparency” by opponents.

They say it will benefit charter schools to the detriment of traditional public schools. Supporters counter that it “helps all students” by holding failing public schools to account.

The law offers all kinds of changes, including requiring recess and reducing mandatory testing. It accelerates state tax dollar funding to for-profit and nonprofit charter and private schools, expands parents’ abilities to choose schools, and tightens Tallahassee’s control over what local school boards can and cannot do.

A group of school boards sued in the Supreme Court to block the law; the justices, in a 4-3 decision, have since transferred the case to a Tallahassee trial court to handle. 

#6 — Enterprise Florida, VISIT FLORIDA survive a hit: Corcoran went full frontal this year, trying to scuttle Scott’s favored organizations and a multitude of business incentives last Legislative Session.

He derided Enterprise Florida, the state’s jobs-creating organization, as little more than a dispenser of “corporate welfare.” Though a public-private partnership, it doles out mostly public dollars.

He slammed VISIT FLORIDA, the tourism marketing group, for secret deals and an overall lack of transparency. Scott and lawmakers eventually worked out a deal to save the agencies and create an $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, focused on promoting public infrastructure and job training.

Meantime, the organizations now are subject to heightened oversight. And Ken Lawson, the former DBPR secretary whom Scott moved to head the tourism agency, toured the state to meet with local tourism leaders. “I want to earn your trust and learn from you first hand. This has been a hard year for all of us,” he said.

#5 — Special elections churn the Legislature: The turnover in legislative seats began with former South Florida Sen. Frank Artiles resigning after an epithet-laden tirade against two black lawmakers was made public, eventually leading to the seat flipping to a Democrat, Annette TaddeoRepublican Jose Felix Diaz lost that race but had to resign the House to run, meaning his House seat is open.

Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson quit the House this year for health reasons; Republican Lawrence McClure won the District 58 seat in a December special election. Republican Alex Miller, just elected in 2016, also resigned her Sarasota-area House seat this summer. She cited a need to “spend more time at home than my service in the Legislature would allow.”

But wait — there’s more. Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens quit after his extramarital affair with a lobbyist came to light. Republican Neil Combee resigned the House to take a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the GOP’s Eric Eisnaugle also left the House to become an appellate judge, and Democrat Rep. Daisy Baez resigned before pleading guilty to perjury in a criminal case over her residency in Coral Gables-based House District 114.

#5(a) — Speaking of Artiles … : He resigned his Senate seat rather than face a hearing that could result in his expulsion. The Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at The Governors Club.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor, but Thurston filed a Senate rules complaint. Artiles, elected to the Senate in 2016 after six years in the House, initially called efforts to remove him politically motivated. (Sound familiar?)

#4 Speaking of Clemens … : The Lake Worth Democrat was the first in the Legislature this year to resign after reports of sexual misconduct. “I have made mistakes I ashamed of, and for the past six months I have been focused on becoming a better person,” he said in a statement to news media. 

“But it is clear to me that task is impossible to finish while in elected office. The process won’t allow it, and the people of Florida deserve better. All women deserve respect, and by my actions, I feel I have failed that standard. I have to do better.”

Clemens, the incoming Senate Democratic Leader, apologized for having an affair with a lobbyist during the last legislative session. That woman “came into possession of Clemens’ laptop, gained access to all his contacts and personal information, then informed his wife of the tryst,” according to POLITICO Florida.

#3 — Jimmy Patronis replaces Jeff Atwater: Patronis had been a Panama City restaurateurstate representative and Public Service Commissioner when Scott tapped him to replace Atwater and become the state’s fourth Chief Financial Officer this June. Atwater quit his term early to become chief financial officer of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

As CFO, Patronis — a Scott loyalist — now is one vote on the Florida Cabinet, in addition to Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. And he has since announced he will seek a full term as CFO in 2018.

The position heads a roughly 2,600-employee agency that includes the state treasury and insurance regulators, as well as being state fire marshal. The CFO also oversees management of the state’s multibillion-dollar financial portfolio. The office was created after the 1997-98 Constitution Revision Commission recommended collapsing several state departments into one, including Insurance, Treasury, State Fire Marshal and Banking and Finance.

#2 — The politics and policy of Hurricane Irma responseIrma’s size and strength put the entire state on notice; thousands of residents and visitors left in advance of catastrophic winds and flooding.

The most significant casualties were in a South Florida nursing home. The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills was evacuated Sept. 13 after the facility lost power to its air conditioning system. Eight elderly residents died, with another six perishing in the weeks that followed. Most died from heat exposure. The deaths were later classified as homicides, with a police spokeswoman saying, “Who gets charged is part of the continuing investigation.”

Scott took his own heat after Democrats charged that he had ignored calls for help from the home’s administrators to his personal mobile phone; he said his staff took the messages and forwarded them to the appropriate state officials.

The governor also ordered an emergency generator rule to “ensur(e) that facilities across Florida are coming into compliance and are installing generators to keep their patients safe during a disaster,” he said. But the facilities themselves challenged that move.

The Florida House formed its own special panel to consider the state’s readiness to deal with monster hurricanes. The Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness has been meeting since October. 

#1 — Jack Latvala quits the SenateIn the face of two damning reports on his alleged serial sexual harassment, Latvala turned in his resignation, not effective till Jan. 5, on Dec. 20.

The Clearwater Republican said in a statement he “never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate.” He first served in the Senate 1994-2002, then returned in 2010. Latvala was term-limited next year.

In his characteristically defiant manner, he said: “Political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.” The 66-year-old Latvala admitted, however, that he “ … perhaps (had not) kept up with political correctness in my comments as well as I should have.”

An investigative report found Latvala “on multiple occasions” offered to trade his vote for sex with an unnamed female lobbyist. That bombshell came toward the end of retired appellate Judge Ronald V. Swanson‘s report into a complaint filed by Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top aide to future Senate President Wilton Simpson.

Perrin Rogers accused Latvala of sexually harassing her and assaulting her on a number of occasions over several years. A second investigation into sexual harassment claims against Latvala, prompted by a POLITICO Florida story, turned up another witness who bolstered an allegation that the senator would offer to trade sex for favorable votes on legislation.

Pam Bondi seeks information over Uber data breach

Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office issued a subpoena to Uber in search of information related to the ride-sharing company’s alleged cover-up of a 2016 data breach.

The San Francisco-based company recently acknowledged that drivers throughout the country might have had their personal information accessed as a result of the breach. At least 32,000 Uber drivers in Florida may have been affected, according to a news release issued Friday by Bondi’s office.

Uber should have reported the data breach to Bondi’s office within 30 days, according to Florida law.

Instead, the company “reportedly paid a ransom and then concealed the hack by entering into a nondisclosure agreement with the hackers,” the release said.

“Uber’s delay to provide timely notice to affected individuals is inexcusable,” Bondi said. “I have always been a strong advocate for Uber’s innovative technology, but if these revelations prove true, I am disgusted by this cover up and Uber will be held accountable.”

Bondi helped craft the Florida Information Protection Act, passed in 2014, that requires businesses and governmental entities to provide notice regarding data breaches to consumers and take certain measures to protect personal information.

Under the national spotlight, a look at Uber’s Florida lobbying team

As Uber faces regulatory scrutiny over a massive data breach that impacted the information of 57 million people worldwide, it maintains one of the largest lobbying footprints in Florida.

Along with its two in-house lobbyists, Stephanie Smith and Cesar Fernandez, the company retains six firms and spent up to $392,993 in the first two quarters of this year, which encompass last Session.

The firms include: Ballard Partners, Floridian Partners, Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, Pittman Law Group, RSA Consulting Group and The Fiorentino Group.

Those firms helped the company pass priority legislation during the 2017 Session that legalized companies like Uber across the state. The years-long battle to do so was hampered by former Senate President Andy Gardiner, a Republican from Orlando, who was a big opponent of the bill.

With Gardiner’s exit, the biggest roadblock was gone.

This year, Uber is supporting HB 19 and SB 150, two measures that seek to repeal personal injury protection, also known as PIP. If passed, drivers who are at fault in an accident would be fully liable for any damages they cause.

The company is also tracking Sen. Jeff Brandesself-driving car bill, but remains neutral on it.

While it remains unclear how many Floridians were impacted in the hack, the company recently admitted it paid $100,000 to hackers to delete the information they stole and keep the attack under wraps for more than a year.

Since the story came to light, lawmakers have called for “significant penalties” against the ride-hailing service and a slew of investigations into the cover-up have ensued.

Hillsborough PTC attorney Cindy Oster named to county court

Cynthia Oster, who has been serving as the in-house attorney for the soon-to-be dismantled Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, has been named by Gov. Rick Scott to serve as a judge in Hillsborough County Court.

The 47-year-old Oster’s official position, which she has held for the past 17 years, was Senior Assistant County Attorney in Hillsborough. She was previously an assistant state attorney for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit and an assistant public defender for the Tenth Judicial Circuit.

Oster received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and her law degree from Stetson University College of Law. She will fill the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Jennifer X. Gabbard to the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Court.

In recent years with the PTC, Oster was busy with lawsuits between the agency and ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft, who battled the PTC for more than two years until they came into compliance a year ago.

Legislation passed earlier this year calls for the PTC to be dissolved at the end of this year.

Blake Dowling: Uber troubles

Unrelated Uber humor.

A local TV station just called to ask our take on the Uber breach.

When they call, it’s a good cue to write something about the topic. It also means I must stop thinking about turkey, IPA and college football. Rivalry weekend is something to be cherished indeed.

What went wrong? A company that has danced around the law many times and thoroughly disrupted the transportation continues to wreak havoc.

This time, it is alleged that 57 million user accounts around the world were flat-out stolen. It was not a ransomware attack; this was straight up hacking.

A couple of criminals got into a collaborative coding website called GitHub; from there (possibly pretending to be legit coders) they were able to steal login credentials to an Amazon Web Services site where Uber private data was stored.

They copied it and reached out for payment.

Terms of the blackmail were $100,000; Uber paid the money, and the (allegedly stolen) data was deleted.

Valerie from WTXL, Alien and me.
The Waco Kid.

Unfortunately for Uber, they appear to a bypass some laws. You know, those pesky regulations that require organizations to disclose info on breaches. The officers that handled the situation are now former employers, so it’s up to new leadership to clean up this dumpster fire.


Breaches happen, mistakes happen in all industries, but the critical step they missed — owning it — makes the situation unacceptable.

What does Uber Leadership have to say? According to Bloomberg: “None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over as chief executive officer in September, in an emailed statement. “We are changing the way we do business.”

No online security could have stopped this from the driver’s perspective.

Complicated passwords, two-factor authentications, dedicated credit cards for online purchases, anti-virus, firewalls … nada. If a vendor is breached, regulatory guidelines are in place by the State and Federal Reserve to help protect data.

It would appear Uber flat-out ignored those.

Talk is cementing its reputation as rouge and outlaw; Uber is the 2017 version of the Waco Kid.

In this day and age, it is time to consider credit monitoring and identity theft monitoring as even another level of required safeguards for what one cybersecurity. The landscape is too vicious not to consider deploying every possible option out there. I use Uber all the time; as a client, I feel like my trust was abused, and their brand is tarnished.

However, they make it really easy to get from point A to point B, so they haven’t lost me yet.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there, enjoy the time with your family, friends and football teams.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies; he can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbistech.com.

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