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  1. Florida Politics

Florida House votes to stop local bans or regulations on Uber, Lyft

Published Jan. 28, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House on Wednesday voted to stop local governments from banning or regulating companies like Uber and Lyft.

By a 108-10 vote, lawmakers passed legislation (HB 509) to overrule local government regulations and set minimum insurance requirements for drivers who find and give rides to passengers using ridesharing apps on their smartphones.

"The right to use innovative companies should not depend on how draconian the rules are in local government," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the bill's sponsor.

But obstacles remain, as Senate leaders resist attempts to block local bans and rules on ridesharing companies. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, is friends with Paul Mears III, president of Mears Transportation in Orlando, a taxi and limo operator. Mears gave the Republican Party of Florida $150,000 during the years Gardiner was in leadership.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is pushing an alternative proposal (SB 1118) that sets insurance requirements but allows local governments to continue regulating Uber and Lyft as transportation companies.

"We don't want to unduly burden the taxi industry and not burden equally the ridesharing companies," Simmons said.

Gaetz said he would support language to do that, although he never proposed a change to the bill that would deregulate taxicabs.

State and local officials have the power to set rules for taxicab companies, including approving rates and issuing permits.

They've tried to do the same for ridesharing companies. If Gaetz's proposal becomes law, no county or city would be able to do that.

That's a concern for House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

"The state likes to say that it provides the ability for local governments to make decisions on their own," Pafford said. "Yet anytime there's some sort of conflict with that idea, coincidentally, the state decides to intrude."

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission last year tried to ban Uber and ticketed drivers. Uber backed out of Broward County over tough new regulations, although it later returned.

On Tuesday, Gaetz fended off attempts by Democrats to require ridesharing companies to treat drivers more like employees and less like contractors by complying with workers' compensation laws and notifying drivers in writing if they're no longer allowed to use the app.

"Let's reject the idea that these people must be employees by virtue of the government's hand," Gaetz said Tuesday.

Other lawmakers — including Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena — questioned whether background checks required in Gaetz's bill do enough to prevent sex offenders and those convicted of driving under the influence from working as drivers.

Times staff writer Caitlin Johnston contributed to this report. Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @michaelauslen.