Andy Gardiner Archives - Florida Politics

Jerry Demings launches mayoral campaign pledging public safety, smart growth, ‘community bonding’

After 36 years in law enforcement including stints as Orlando police chief, Orange County public safety director, and his current post as sheriff, Jerry Demings announced Friday he’s ready to take on the entire county as mayor, pledging public safety, smart growth, and “community bonding” as his platform.

Demings, 58, joined his wife Democratic U.S. Rep Val Demings and a handful of elected officials and community leaders Friday to claim early front-runner status for the 2018 election. No other major candidates have entered the race yet, in part, waiting to see what Jerry Demings would do.

His campaign kickoff outside the Orange County Administration Building in Orlando was partly a review of his career in law enforcement, partly his vision to be mayor, and partly religious revival, as the Demings were joined by their pastor and many of church friends as well.

“I am overwhelmed by the tremendous show of support,” Demings began. “After much prayer and deliberation, and with the support of my family, I’m excited to announce my candidacy for Orange County mayor during the 2018 election cycle.”

Demings has served two terms and a year as sheriff and said he would serve out the next year and a half. Before being first elected in 2008, he was public safety director for the county, in a position that was officially deputy county administrator. Before that he was Orlando’s police chief, a job he got after 17 years in the department.

Not surprisingly, he listed public safety as his first campaign platform priority, noting that extends to fire and rescue and emergency management, as well as law enforcement. He pointed out that as police chief he led the city’s responses to the 9/11 attacks, as county public safety director the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, and as sheriff he was key in the response to the June 12, 2016, Pulse nightclub massacre.

“There are others I could speak about, but I think you get the point,” he said.

He pledged to work with the unions to assure first responders are paid “a competitive wage” and have the resources and training required. That is an issue he took up this spring when he outlined his proposed 2018 budget to the Orange County Commission, arguing that his deputies were underpaid compared with other departments, and he proposed major increases. The Orange County Commission will take it up later this month.

His take on smart growth continues a policy set by each of the last four Orange County leaders, though it is a policy that has often led to rancorous public debates on developments. Demings sought to expand the concept of smart growth, calling for business development that “protects our quality of life and that provides for employment and entrepreneurship for everyone,” and for jobs that “pay at or above a living wage.” He also called for pushing renewable energy, and to preserve the rural character of rural parts of the county, and to address parts of the county suffering urban blight.

As for the community bonding, he began to address that by declaring, “Today, the politics of our nation are troublesome. And I promise you that I work across political lines to make our community a great place to live, work and visit. Orange County needs a unifier that can bond us together as one community, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, ethnic origin or religious beliefs. I have well-established relationships which cross the wonderful diversity of this community.

“Orange County is a beautiful kaleidoscope of colors, and represents people of different backgrounds from around the world. We should celebrate and embrace that diversity and use this to strengthen commerce,” he continued.

He also talked about working with private sector to improve delivery of county services.

Other potential Orange County mayoral candidates including Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, Orlando chamber of commerce president Rob Panepinto, former Senate President Andy Gardiner, and Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette. The position is non-partisan. But Demings, elected sheriff as a Democrat, suggested Friday that none matched up to him in experience.

 

“I doubt very seriously that they have any more experience than the 36 years of public experience that I talked about,” Demings said. “I served in this building for six years, so I look forward to coming back to the fifth floor.”

It was not lost on Demings that, if elected, he would become the county’s first African-American leader, just as he was Orlando’s first African-American police chief, and Orange County’s first African-American sheriff.. He paid tribute to the previous four county mayors and chairs since a county charter amendment established the position, saying he looked forward to becoming the fifth.

“And, I add, the first African-American to do so,” he said. “I’m proud of what it signifies that today our community has progressed to the point that one can be considered a serious candidate to hold the office of chief executive for Orange County regardless of their race, gender or ethnic origin.

“I’m standing here today as the son of a maid and a cab driver, as well as the great, great, grandson of slaves,” he added.

Jeb Bush foundation issues legislative grades; aces for Richard Corcoran, Joe Negron

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron aced the 2017 Legislative Session when it comes to school choice, said an organization founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Foundation for Florida’s Future gave both Republican lawmakers an “A+” this year and included both on their “honor roll,” which the group says, “recognizes the legislative leaders who championed bold education reforms that keep the promise of a quality education for each and every student.”

“His determination to ensure every child, regardless of location, income or ability level, has access to a high-quality education earned him a top spot on Florida’s 2017 Education Report Card,” the group said of Corcoran. “His tireless advocacy and leadership will undoubtedly improve the educational outcomes for thousands of Florida students.”

Negron also received praise for expanding the Gardiner Scholarship Program, a program for disabled students passed during former Sen. Andy Gardiner’s time as the chamber’s president, and for rallying senators “to embrace student-centered education policies that empower parents and expand educational options.”

The Stuart Republican was a major force behind the controversial charter school bill HB 7069 clearing the chamber by two votes at the tail end of the 2017 Legislative Session.

The omnibus education bill included funding for the “Schools of Hope” program, which encourages charter schools to open in low-performing school districts by giving them incentives.

In addition to Negron and Corcoran, Foundation for Florida’s Future put a dozen other representatives and nine other senators on the honor roll with perfect scores.

Overall, the Foundation gave 23 of 40 senators and 75 of 120 representatives an “A” or higher.

With no legislative action, Confederate statue remains in U.S. Capitol

The General abides.

With lawmakers taking no action this year, a bronze statue of a Confederate general representing Florida shall remain indefinitely in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

Two competing bills died this Legislative Session. One called for a likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune to replace the statue of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith.

Another proposed a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of Grass,” to take Smith’s place.

“Next year, we expect movement in the House and we’ll pass it in the Senate,” said state Sen. Perry Thurston, who sponsored the Bethune measure. “I am encouraged we will get it done next year.”

Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol. Florida’s other statue, a marble rendering of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning, is unaffected.

The move to replace Smith’s statue came after renewed debate about Confederate symbols, including the battle flag ubiquitous in the South.

City workers this week started moving a Confederate statue called “Johnny Reb” from a park in the heart of downtown Orlando, to a nearby cemetery. And the Hillsborough County Commission is set to discuss the removal of a Confederate memorial that sits in front of the county’s courthouse.

The state Senate also recently removed a decades-old mural that had been outside the 5th floor press and public galleries that included a depiction of another Confederate general and flag. The Senate in 2015 voted to remove that flag from its official seal and insignia.

At the time, then-Senate President Andy Gardiner said the artwork was “beginning to show signs of age that must be addressed if the mural is to be preserved.” Parts of it were fading and peeling.

The removal was part of an almost-$5 million renovation of the Senate chamber, the first since the Capitol opened in 1978. The 10-foot-by-16 foot “Five Flags Mural” now is in storage at the Historic Capitol.

Additional material provided by The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

Updated 4:45 p.m. — The Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday voted 4-3 to keep the Confederate memorial in front of the courthouse in downtown Tampa.

Voting to move it: Al Higginbotham, Pat Kemp, Les Miller.

Voting to keep it where it is: Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman, Stacy White.

Fate of program for disabled children rests with Rick Scott

Debby Dawson, who lives in southwest Florida, has a simple message to Gov. Rick Scott: The state’s existing scholarship program for disabled children is “life changing” and has helped her 7-year-old autistic son “develop by leaps and bounds.”

Dawson is part of a chorus of parents from around the state who have mounted a campaign through letters, emails and phone calls urging the Republican governor to sign a sweeping education bill that will soon come to his desk.

But that same bill has sparked an outpouring of an even larger negative reaction to Scott both directly and on social media.

School superintendents, the state’s teacher union, parent-teacher groups and Democrats have called on the governor to veto the bill. Even Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor in 2018, called the legislation a “train wreck” on Tuesday and said Scott should take a “hard look” at vetoing the bill.

That’s because GOP legislators crafted the 300-page bill largely in secret, and included in it portions that would steer more state and local money to privately-run charter schools. The legislation (HB 7069) also mandates recess in elementary schools, expands virtual education courses to private and home schooled students, and tweaks Florida’s testing system.

Scott, who supported the creation of the scholarship program, has not yet said what he plans to do.

But if he vetoes the bill, however, he will wipe out an extra $30 million for the Gardiner Scholarship program that provides tuition, therapy and other services to roughly 8,000 disabled students. Legislators included $73 million in the state budget for scholarships, but those who operate the program say it is growing and they may not have enough money to serve everyone without the extra money. Additionally, legislators passed a separate bill that would expand those eligible for the program.

That’s why Dawson wrote Scott asking him to sign the bill. She said without the extra money her other son – who is about to turn 3-years-old – may not get a scholarship in the coming year.

“As a parent who has seen how life changing this grant is, and knowing my second child may not have the same opportunities as my oldest, it is heartbreaking, to say the least,” Dawson wrote in an email to a reporter. “This grant opens up doors for our children where the doors were once shut and locked tight.”

Legislative leaders have not given a detailed explanation on why they put the extra money for the scholarship program in the bill, which was not released publicly until two days before a final vote. Initially, the state Senate had more than $100 million in its budget for the program but then agreed to lower it during budget negotiations.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the budget chairman, said the decision to include the money in the bill and not the budget was at the urging of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. When asked Corcoran called it a “compromise” since the House did not include the higher amount in its initial budget.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat opposed to the bill, argued that legislative leaders crafted the legislation this way in order to make it harder for Scott to veto the bill.

“I was deeply disturbed that (the families of disabled children) were hijacked and used as pawns to mollify opposition to an otherwise bad bill,” Farmer said.

School choice advocates, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, are asking Scott to sign the bill. Former Senate President Andy Gardiner, who has a son with Down syndrome and helped create the program, said he hopes the “governor is mindful” that the bill isn’t just about charter schools and that many families will be affected by his decision.

Barbara Beasley, whose 9-year-old daughter receives a Gardiner scholarship, says it has dramatically improved her daughter’s life, but she said that “lawmakers sold us down the river with their backroom dealing on the education bill.” She said other parts of the legislation are detrimental to public schools and should be stopped.

“I beg Governor Scott to order lawmakers back to session to fix their mistakes, separate these items from the bad and push them through,” Beasley said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

As Orange County mayor’s race awaits major candidates, can Rich Crotty run again?

As the future race for Orange County mayor continues to be a mystery involving potential major candidates still thinking about it but none yet committing, one name that keeps coming up raises questions of precedent and interpretation of curious language differences in the county charter.

Former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, who served two-plus terms leading the county’s administration over the past decade, is considering running again. He’s thinking about reclaiming the office that he held for ten years, between the brief tenure of Mel Martinez and the current tenure of Mayor Teresa Jacobs.

Crotty told FloridaPolitics.com that he is being “strongly encouraged” to run for the 2018 opening. Jacobs is certainly barred from running for re-election, by the charter’s term-limit language.

Crotty’s potential candidacy is like that of at least a couple of others — notably Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings or former Florida Speaker Andy Gardiner — with weight is so intimidating that other potential candidates are sitting back, waiting to see if they do or don’t, before stepping in.

No major candidates have entered the race yet. The seat is non-partisan, so, though party affiliations will be critical to lining up support, and potentially in winning votes, they won’t appear on the ballot.

But unlike Democrat Demings, Republican Gardiner, Republican Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette, Democratic Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, Democratic Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph, former Republican Orange County commissioners Scott Boyd and John Martinez, and other talked-about Orange County mayoral candidates including Orlando’s chamber of commerce chair Rob Panepinto, a Republican, and former Republican Clerk of Courts Eddie Fernandez, Crotty’s possible candidacy might be challenged on a legal interpretation.

The Orange County Charter has untested language about whether someone can run for a third term as mayor, and no one has ever tried.

Current Orange County Attorney Jeffrey Newton, and the lawyer who wrote that language in the late 1980s, Linda Weinberg, both said they believe the door is open to a third term because it is nonconsecutive.

Others who might not want to see Crotty in the race, might challenge that, arguing that the language seems to limit the mayor to two full terms.

“The county mayor shall be elected for a term of four years and shall be limited to two full consecutive terms,” is how the Orange County Charter states it.

That is distinctly different from the language written on the term limits of county commissioners, and commissioners have run for three nonconsecutive terms.

The commissioners’ charter language reads:

“A county commissioner who has held the same commission district office for the preceding two full terms is prohibited from appearing on the ballot for re-election to that office.”

So was the mayor’s term limit language written differently, in order to limit the mayor differently?

As Weinberg recalls, no.

“While the language is quite different, they both essentially provide that the elected official is limited to two consecutive terms and then cannot run for re-election during the next election cycle,” she stated, responding to a question from Orlando-Rising. “However, there is nothing that expressly prohibits either a commissioner or the mayor for running for election to the same office at a future time. And indeed, there was never any discussion or intent to prohibit a mayor from ever seeking the office again after having served his or her two terms.

“I believe the language is different because that section related to the mayoral terms has not been modified since the original charter, whereas the section related to terms for county commissioners has been modified on a number of occasions [we went to single-member commission districts and redistricting,]” she continued.

“I suspect that a lawyer involved in the re-drafting process felt like they could draft that provision more clearly.”

INFLUENCE Magazine talks with Jack Latvala on life, political success and ‘what he’s learned’

Recounting an impressive list of achievements spanning four decades, veteran lawmaker Jack Latvala seems to have done it all: an effective Florida senator and political consultant, a self-described “environmentally-conscious” Republican and the proud father to state Rep. Chris Latvala.

The Clearwater senator, chair of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee, recently sat down with FloridaPolitics.com’s Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster to reflect on his life, successes and years in Tallahassee.

“Most senators are sincere,” the 65-year-old Latvala said. “I learned who in this body can be counted on and who can keep their word. Of course, I’ve always been a good vote counter on issues or whatever, because I look people in the eye and then I can usually tell if they’re sincere or not.”

Born in Oxford, Mississippi in 1951, Latvala talked about his start in politics, working for the Republican Party of Florida in 1975, a role he continued for five years.

“The last couple of years, I was the ex­ecutive director of the legislative campaign committee,” he said. “After Jack Eckerd ran for gov­ernor, he agreed to stay active in the party, and he was the chair of that committee. He hired me and brought me to Pinellas County.”

It was there Latvala started Largo-based GCI Printing Services, his government affairs and direct mail business, which the senator said grew into one of the largest GOP direct mail companies in the nation outside of Washington, D.C.

“I did the direct mail fundraising for the state Repub­lican Party in 28 states at our zenith,” Latvala said, including all of George H.W. Bush’s direct mail in the South. After Bush’s election in 1988, Latvala said they split he became one of the three vendors nationwide for direct mail services.

That experience helped Latvala hone his talents for his own political ambition.

In 1993, after local state Rep. Sandra Mortham chose to run for Secretary of State, Latvala made the decision to run for the Florida House.

“I raised money and had a lot of money in the bank, and 10 days before qualifying in ’94,” he said, “the incumbent Republi­can state Senator in my district resigned to run statewide for Lieutenant Governor. So I shifted over to the Senate race.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

It was a lot different (then),” Latvala said “There were 40 leaders raised up by their communities, who came to Tallahassee and did what they thought was best for their communities. No one told a Florida Senator how to vote. You could get 21 votes; you could pass something.”

But with term limits and more House members winning Senate seats, Latvala believes there’s a lot more “follow the leader.”

“It was the worst when I came back in 2011,” Latvala said. “Then after I stood up to them and got a group of other people to stand up to them, it slowed down a little bit. But the House members that are coming over are very used to following their Speaker, to following their leader. I don’t think it’s all that good. That means one Speaker, one President makes all the decisions. And I just don’t think people want that.”

For Latvala, the most difficult years in the Senate were 2011—12, under President Mike Haridopolos. The last two years with Senate Pres­ident Andy Gardiner weren’t that great either, he said.

“The House ran over us on redistricting, ran over us on Medicaid expansion,” Latvala said. “Now it’s like nobody wants to extend the session because it makes you look bad. So, if you can get all the way to 60 days, you get your way.”

Latvala’s proudest accomplishments include the Florida Forever bill, which extended the state’s land-buying program, as well as measures creating the state’s chief financial officer office after constitutional amendments. He also played a key role in implementing the net ban law in 1994, taking another three years “to close all the loopholes,” as well as passing series of criminal justice bills that became a crucial part of Florida’s now 45-year low crime rate.

When Latvala returned to the Senate, he said he came back an “environmentally conscious Republican,” something a little bit harder to find than back in the 1990s.

“I’m kind of a conservative, but I’m a centrist,” he said “I take care of a lot of issues that independents and Democrats are concerned about, whether its environmental or whether it’s protecting our public employees, public safety employees, public schools.

“A lot of Democrats and independents care about that.”

Read Latvala’s entire interview, now available in the spring 2017 edition of INFLUENCE Magazine.

 

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).

Draft-Anna Eskamani for Orange Mayor movement draws Bob Poe backing

A social media campaign to draft Anna Eskamani to run for Orange County mayor is catching steam on Facebook and has convinced at least one major potential mayoral candidate to declare he won’t run because he’d rather back her – Bob Poe.

Eskamani, a 26-year-old Orlando Democrat who is director of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said Tuesday she is inspired and humbled, and is exploring the possibility of running for the top job in Orange County this year.

“I’m definitely giving it serious thought. But at the end of the day, I’m listening to the people,” she said.

So far, no serious candidates have filed, though several are known to be organizing support for a run in 2018, when incumbent Republican Mayor Teresa Jacobs will be term-limited. The two registered candidates are Harry Legrand-Torres and Robert Edward Melanson.

Poe was one such potential candidate. A businessman and major Democratic campaign fundraiser, fresh off a failed run for Congress, Poe said on Tuesday that he has decided to not run for mayor. Instead, after he saw the draft-Anna page, Poe decided he wants to back Eskamani, and is urging others in his orbit to do so as well.

“I’m out,” Poe said. “And I’m encouraging Anna.”

By late Tuesday, the “We Want Anna Eskamani for Orange County Mayor” page started Sunday afternoon on Facebook had more than 700 likes.

Eskamani is young, but an already well-established figure in Central Florida Democratic circles. She’s known for strong progressive views, fiery speeches, sharp preparation on issues, and appearing at nearly every progressive politics event in the area.

She has a twin sister Ida Eskamani, who fits the same bill and serves as a legislative aide to Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando.

“We deserve an authentic voice,” Anna Eskamani said. “We deserve a mayor who works for all people and pushes back against dangerous policies that come from Washington D.C. and Tallahassee. For me, organizing, fighting for equality, is what I have committed my life to.

“And I’m absolutely inspired by this new-found energy around the potential of me running for mayor. And I would be honored to serve this county and its people.”

Poe said he is attracted to her youthful energy and fearlessness, and his belief that the Democratic Party needs a new generation of leaders. He called her a leader who does her homework.

“She’s been on the cutting edge of what has been happening politically here,” Poe said. “She is a driver. I’m encouraging Anna to run. And I’m going to encourage other people to encourage Anna to run.”

While they make up their minds, so are several other potential candidates and their backers. Another draft page has been started on Facebook for Democratic Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh. Democratic Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings also been frequently projected as candidates. Potential Republican candidates have included Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette, former Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and Former Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd.

Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition pushes for statewide bill to get passed this year

Last year in the Florida Legislature, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to create statewide regulations regarding ridesharing, but the bill died ignominiously in the state Senate.

Similar bills are winding their way through committees in both chambers already in 2017, and on Wednesday, the group Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition announced their support for that legislation, being sponsored in the House by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant and in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes.

“We fully support legislation that embraces innovation, and legislation that creates predictable regulatory climate across the entire state for ridesharing companies,” said Frank Walker, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce on a conference call.

Florida is one of only 12 states in the nation that has yet to create a statewide law regarding ridesharing, or transportation network companies (TNC’s) as they are also known.

In 2016, the drama was in the Florida Senate, where Uber blamed Senate President Andy Gardiner for the inability for the ridesharing legislation to advance. He’s been succeeded by Palm City Republican Joe Negron, who has praised the current legislation.

“I think you’ve got two different bodies then you had last year,” said Walker, when asked why he’s more optimistic that the bill will pass this year. He also said that there is simply more demand for Uber and Lyft. “Environment plays a big role, and so does demand,” he said.

No region of the state has more interest in seeing a ridesharing bill passed than in the Tampa Bay area. That’s because of the large unpopularity with the body charged in Hillsborough County to regulate Uber and Lyft, the Public Transportation Commission.

Over the years, PTC officers have cited numerous Lyft and Uber drivers for operating illegally. Those actions ceased after the PTC finally passed a bill last fall bringing the two companies into compliance.

“Local regulations at best have been problematic and dysfunctional, and have not been helping to foster and grow the local economy, and that’s why we need a statewide regulation,” said Bob Rohrlack, President/CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Rohrlack blamed “the status quo,” meaning the taxicab industry predominantly, for putting up roadblocks to protect, and not grow markets. “The local regulations penalize entrepreneurs. That’s something that none of us should be accepting,” he said.

In previous years, there has been criticism that the ridesharing companies have not been accommodating towards the disabled. But Kim Galban-Countryman, Executive Director of Lighthouse of the Big Bend, says the TNC’s are helping people with disabilities, especially those living with vision loss.

“Convenient transportation options are an absolute necessity for people with vision loss, and ridesharing introduces a simple affordable means to get around,” Galban-Countryman says.”Through various voice activated systems and services, individuals with visual impairments who otherwise would not have access to convenient transportation options can maintain their independence, and call a Lyft or Uber driver to take them where they need to go.”

Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition was formed before the 2016 Legislative Session.

 

 

Legislature to hear this week bills regulating ridesharing companies

Will 2017 finally be the year the state of Florida implements a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to operate under?

Legislators have failed to produce a bill over the past three regular sessions in Tallahassee, but hope springs eternal that all parties can come together this year.

On Wednesday, members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will discuss a bill sponsored by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls (HB 221). St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate.

The bill has the backing of Uber and Lyft, as well as Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Technology Council and the Tampa Bay Partnership.

A similar bill failed last year, but because of a change in Senate leadership, Brandes is predicting it will have a better chance of passing in the upcoming session. Uber contended that former Senate President Andy Gardiner was the obstacle to the Senate passing the bill that was sponsored by former Rep. Matt Gaetz in the House.

As has been the case at the local level, the taxi industry is intensely against the bill, arguing it gives transportation network companies an advantage. County governments have long regulated taxi cabs, setting their rates, determining how many can be on the road, requiring background checks and demanding services such as the ability to accept credit cards or serve disadvantaged people and neighborhoods.

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