Lawmaker bows to GOP pressure, drops cap on rental car fees
Motorists angry over being hit with extra fees to cover unpaid highway tolls when they rent cars in Florida won't be getting any help from the Legislature.
A bill that would have capped the fees at $10 a day moved ahead in the House Tuesday, but only after it was amended to eliminate the fee cap. The amended bill won support from lobbyists for rental car companies.
The bill (HB 1119) is sponsored by Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, who said she filed it to help unsuspecting consumers who rent cars in Florida and are charged from $4 to $15 a day by rental car companies, in addition to the tolls themselves, to cover cases in which renters pass through electronic toll booths where there are no humans to accept money.
Jacobs' bill was likely doomed in the House Transportation & Ports Subcommittee unless she removed the fee limit, so she took it out. "Up here, you know how far that went," Jacobs said. "So I'll take a baby step -- can they just tell us what the fees are?"
Jacobs' amended bill now says that the rental car company must post all terms and conditions "either in a conspicuous location on the business premises or provide it in the electronic rental disclosure provided to the renter." That amendment, which further watered down the bill, was offered by Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona, an announced candidate for Congress. Rental car industry lobbyists have testified that they already provide the disclosure in rental agreements.
"I like this bill now that the $10 has been taken out of it," said Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola Beach.
The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who initially filed his own proposed regulations, but he declared it dead last week. "There's a practical reality in getting bills done up here," Rouson said.
As a state employee, Jacobs is required to rent from Enterprise and its affiliates, Alamo and National, which hold a multi-year contract with the state. Those firms charge a fee of $3.95 a day for every day a toll is unpaid to cover the costs of unpaid tolls. Jacobs said she was surprised that the Department of Management Services, which negotiated the contract with Enterprise, did not negotiate a removal of the fees, which will be passed on to Florida taxpayers.
"So even on ourselves, we're paying more as a state," Jacobs said. "We could have negotiated that clause away."
Enterprise Holdings and related firms have donated $1.2 million in campaign contributions to legislators and candidates since 1996, most of it to Republicans. Enterprise has contributed $100,000 to the Republican Party of Florida since 2014.
Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said he opposes any bill that would impose fee caps on rental car companies. "I want to make sure there's clear disclosure by these rental car companies to customers. It's really a disclosure issue more than government needs to be involved in a business relationship issue."
Attorney General Pam Bondi continues to get complaints from consumers accusing the rental car companies of unfairly overcharging them. The industry says the fees are disclosed in all rental agreements.