Florida Politics

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

In this Dec. 16, 2014, file photo a man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco.
In this Dec. 16, 2014, file photo a man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. AP

As local governments including Miami-Dade 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 but a compromise was reached the service is now legally operating. In Miami-Dade, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is working in a proposal to legalize the service that the County Commission would have to approve. A key issue is whether to forgive any portion of the more than $3 million in fines Uber drivers have racked up to date.

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 mauslen@tampabay.com. Follow @MichaelAuslen.