Ridesharing bill on the move in Fla. Senate

- After the issue stalled the past two years in the Senate, a proposal that would create statewide regulations for ridesharing companies got a boost Tuesday from a Senate committee.

Ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft are lobbying heavily for the proposal (SB 340), which would override local regulations on the fast-growing industry. But with cities and counties long regulating taxi operators, groups such as the Florida League of Cities oppose the move to impose statewide rules for app-based ridesharing companies.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved the bill, which includes insurance and background-check requirements for ridesharing drivers. In arguing for statewide regulations, bill sponsor Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, pointed, for example, to the possibility that 24 cities in Pinellas County could have different rules.

"It would be almost impossible to do business in Pinellas County under that type of regime," Brandes said.

But Sen. George Gainer, a Panama City Republican who was a longtime Bay County commissioner, questioned why ridesharing companies would be regulated at the state level, while taxi companies would continue to be regulated locally. Gainer also said he thought it was important that counties have regulatory authority.

"I saw a big value in having local control over the taxis," said Gainer, who opposed the bill.

The House during the past two years has pushed similar bills, but the issue got bottled up in the Senate, where former President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, wanted to more narrowly address issues such as insurance requirements for ridesharing drivers. Gardiner left office in November and was replaced by President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

Brandes' bill still will need to get approval from two Senate committees before it could go to the full Senate. Meanwhile, the House version of the bill (HB 221) has received overwhelming support in a subcommittee and a committee and is ready to go to the House floor.

The Senate committee approved changes to the Senate version Tuesday that Brandes said lined it up more closely with the House bill.

Part of the discussion Tuesday focused on transportation for people with disabilities. Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, proposed a change that would have levied an assessment against ridesharing companies --- more formally known as "transportation network companies" --- to help fund transportation services for people with disabilities.

Farmer argued, in part, that taxi companies have invested money in vehicles to transport people who have disabilities or are in wheelchairs. But the committee rejected Farmer's assessment proposal.

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