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  1. Florida Politics

Florida House, Senate far from compromise on Uber regulation

TALLAHASSEE — Uber and Lyft drivers will have to buy special insurance under legislation passed Thursday by the Florida Senate and poised for a vote today by the House.

Lawmakers in both chambers want to create a new kind of liability insurance for ride-sharing companies, which use smartphones to connect drivers with people who need a ride.

Under the proposals, drivers would need to secure up to $1 million in coverage. That's where the bills' similarities stop.

The Senate plan (SB 1298), which passed by a 28-12 vote Thursday, requires ride-sharing drivers to have insurance regulated by the state, starting next year. It also requires insurance for properties listed on short-term home rental companies like Airbnb.

In the House, proposed legislation (HB 817) has a much wider reach, requiring deep background checks for drivers and opposing local regulations.

House sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, is entering a larger debate, pitting Uber and Lyft against taxi companies and local governments.

Cities and counties, including Hillsborough County, have for the past few years tried to regulate or get rid of Uber and Lyft.

But Gaetz's bill, on which the House is expected to vote today, bans local governments from doing that. It also allows ride-sharing companies to use insurers that aren't regulated by the state.

"This is a disruptive technology," Gaetz said. "It's an innovative technology, and I want Florida to be the home of these types of practices."

He also attached language to an economic development package (HB 7067) that will stop cities and counties from collecting transportation impact fees on new development if they regulate ride-sharing companies.

However, Kyle Cockream, executive director of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, said there's a need for more local involvement in regulating transit — not less.

"The transportation issue is different in every market," he said. "Taking away the ability of home rule doesn't make sense."

Simmons will consider pre-empting local governments, but he said he first wants to address what he considers the most pressing concern.

"There are a lot of people out there doing this ride-sharing who are subjected to a tremendous, tremendous risk … of not being compensated in the event that they're injured," he said.

Personal car insurance plans typically ban for-hire driving, including ride-sharing. For their part, insurers hope for a compromise that will allow them to sell policies to Uber and Lyft drivers.

"PCI and our members believe the insurance gaps should be closed from the time the ride-share driver turns the app on (to accept riders) until it's turned off," said Logan McFaddin of the Property Casualty Insurers Association.

Simmons said the Legislature could find common ground on insurance, where the proposals differ less. Gaetz, however, is no hurry to pass a bill.

"Without pre-emption, you don't have a uniform regulatory mechanism," he said. "Uber continues to grow their market share in Florida without a law, so if we're unable to reach an agreement this session, that's fine."

Contact Michael Auslen at mauslen@tampabay.com.

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