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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Uber and Lyft's top-priority legislation clears first-ever Senate hearing

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, talk to reporters about the Uber bill during the 2016 legislative session.


Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, talk to reporters about the Uber bill during the 2016 legislative session.



For the first time Tuesday, a Senate committee approved legislation that would take away local governments' ability to regulate ridesharing businesses like Uber and Lyft, a signal that the bill could finally pass this session after years of lawmakers and the companies themselves attempting to push it through.

The House has already teed up a version of the legislation (SB 340/HB 221) for a vote on the floor. That chamber passed similar legislation in 2016 and was poised to take it up in 2015.

In recent years, the Senate has refused to pass it. On Tuesday, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee gave it a 7-2 nod of approval.

If passed, the legislation would end the patchwork system of city and county laws regulating the companies, which allow users to request a ride from a for-hire driver on their smartphone. It would also prevent individual communities from banning Uber and Lyft, as has happened in Hillsborough, Broward and other counties.

"We need this type of statewide framework," said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who sponsored the legislation. "It would be very difficult to operate a business in that (less centralized) type of environment."

Two senators objected: George Gainer, R-Panama City, and Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point. Farmer said he thought companies like Uber and Lyft should have to contribute to the "financial burden" of maintaining streets and providing public transportation to people with disabilities.

Gainer, a former county commissioner said he opposed the state stepping in and taking control from counties, which generally regulate taxicabs and similar vehicles.

"I saw big value to having local control of taxis," he said. "I can't imagine why Uber would have any problem being under county control."

Earlier Tuesday, a House subcommittee approved legislation (HB 647) that would disband the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which in recent years feuded publicly with ridesharing companies.

[Last modified: Tuesday, March 14, 2017 1:06pm]


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