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Expanded E-bike bill clears second Senate committee

The bill would increase allowable speeds.

Sen. Jeff Brandes’ electric bicycle bill moved one step closer to approval Monday after the Senate Committee on Community Affairs gave it the go ahead.

Brandes’ bill (SB 1148) would change existing laws governing electric bikes to allow users to ride them on any road, path or sidewalk where regular bikes are permitted up to 28 mph. The bill would also eliminate the 25-inch height requirement for electric bikes to allow recumbent bikes to operate under motorized power.

Electric bikes can be operated solely through motorized power, meaning a rider would not have to pedal in order to propel the bike or use a motor to assist with pedaling. The bikes could also be used without any motor assistance at all.

The bill would also retain home rule power for local governments to regulate use within their communities.

Brandes’ bill passed with little debate among committee members. However, one speaker expressed concerns about potential safety implications.

Under existing law, electric bikes are limited to 15 mph — 13 mph less than the proposed change. Existing law also blocks anyone under the age of 16 from operating an electric bike.

The bill would not only increase allowable speeds, but allow kids younger than 16 to use electric bikes.

The speaker expressed concern that the higher rate of speed, especially among younger children, could increase the risk of serious injury. He also contended use of a bike at speeds up to 28 mph put other slower moving individuals using the same sidewalk, like pedestrians or traditional bikers, at greater risk of injury.

However, Brandes contended the proposed legislation includes a home rule provision to protect against those fears. A more urban city with heavily trafficked sidewalks could ban e-bike use on those paths. But more rural areas might find the use consistent with their community’s needs.

“In the absence of this bill … people will still ride them where they feel they are allowed to,” Brandes argued. “Every one of us has a car that could easily go 130 mph yet we don’t go that fast, typically. Just because a bike can go a certain speed, it’s not going that speed all the time.”

The bill would create a statewide framework for e-bikes that would make it easier for bike share or rental companies to do business in Florida while still allowing communities to retain local control.

The Florida League of Cities is in favor of the bill.

Brandes’ measure has one committee of reference remaining — the Senate Rules Committee — before heading to the floor.

A similar bill (HB 971) in the House sponsored by Rep. Jamie Grant also has one committee stop remaining before a full floor vote.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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