Proposal to end local bans on Uber gains momentum in Florida House

Published December 2 2015
Updated December 2 2015

TALLAHASSEE — As local governments including Hillsborough County continue to face off with Uber and Lyft, state lawmakers are trying to take the power to regulate the transportation companies away from cities and counties entirely.

Legislation by Panhandle Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz that's making headway in the Florida House would set statewide standards such as insurance minimums and background check requirements for ride-booking companies that want to operate in Florida. HB 509 cleared its first hurdle Wednesday, gaining approval from the House Highway and Waterway Safety subcommittee on a 10-1 vote.

It's the second time Gaetz has made this push, backed by Uber and insurance companies. In the 2015 session, a similar bill fell short in the final days without support from the state Senate.

"We don't want a circumstance where someone who's wanting to comply with the law and wanting to provide transportation network services inadvertently crosses a county or municipal line and becomes a criminal," Gaetz said. "You could have disparate insurance requirements, disparate registration requirements."

Local governments don't see it that way. They contend that Gaetz's proposal flies in the face of their right to set rules inside their borders.

"It's important for each county that has a commission that's been elected to have the ability to deliberate and consider what is best for that community," said Eric Poole, a lobbyist with the Florida Association of Counties.

The Florida League of Cities and both Broward and Miami-Dade counties spoke out against the bill. Uber pulled out of Broward for several months this year after the county passed stiff regulations, and a bitter fight over regulations in Hillsborough County is ongoing.

That battle will take center stage next week, as Tampa area lawmakers meet to discuss their priorities for the 2016 session. Republicans who represent Hillsborough County have proposed measures as drastic as repealing their Public Transportation Commission, which has been at odds with Uber.

Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said she wants to see a more measured approach and will propose that the regulations currently being considered in the House be applied in Hillsborough County, even though they may not pass statewide in the coming session, as the bill has no sponsor in the Senate. She said she has faith it will succeed in the following session.

"Thinking it will eventually pass next year, it would be a seamless transition for Hillsborough County because we would already have an ordinance in place," said Young, the House Republican leader.

As local governments continue to resist, another conversation is emerging in the Capitol: that lawmakers could put taxi companies and ride-booking services like Uber on the same page, under the same regulations. It's a move that the city of Sarasota has already made.

Even the taxi companies have softened the tone of their objections. Former Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a lobbyist for the Florida Taxi Cab Association, said the Gaetz proposal "creates an uneven playing field." Mark Stempler, who lobbies for Yellow Cab in South Florida, said he and other advocates for the taxi industry don't expect Uber and Lyft to leave Florida.

Gaetz said he's willing to push for changes across all for-hire vehicles. But he hasn't proposed any changes. The taxi industry hasn't expressed an interest, he said.

"I think what's good for the goose has got to be good for the gander," he said. "And we don't want to be in the business of picking winners and losers."

Contact Michael Auslen at [email protected] Follow @MichaelAuslen.

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