State legislators descended on Tallahassee last week for their final round of interim committee hearings – also the last time they will meet before the official start of the 2016 regular legislative session in January.  The final week of interim committee meetings typically is reserved for priority legislation that leadership wants teed-up for session.

One such bill that overwhelmingly passed its first committee of reference is H.B. 509, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, which would create statewide regulations for transportation network companies (TNCs).  The bill is similar to last year’s so-called “Uber bill,” also filed by Gaetz, which ended up one of many casualties of the war between the Republican-controlled House and Senate last session.

This year there has been more pressure on Florida lawmakers to adopt statewide regulations governing TNCs, as many localities throughout the state have been implementing oftentimes conflicting regulations. Some local governments, like the City of Tallahassee, have enacted what many view as commonsense regulations that allow both traditional taxi cab companies and TNCs to coexist; others, including localities in the state’s populous southeastern counties haven’t been as hospitable.

Gaetz is once again proposing the statewide TNC regulations his bill will create should pre-empt local governments. This remains the bill’s most contentious provision, and one that is sure to face some opposition.

Representatives of the taxicab industry, as well as local governments and the League of Cities, attended last Wednesday’s Highway and Waterway Safety Subcommittee to voice their opposition to the bill, including concerns that the bill will put taxis at a competitive disadvantage. Taxis are regulated at the local level, and many are required to abide by onerous regulations, high permitting fees and medallion systems that dramatically increase the cost of operating a taxi. Gaetz addressed these concerns with an offer to deregulate the taxi cab industry at the state level, which he says the industry has not taken him up on in the past.

Speaking in favor of the bill was a Tallahassee-area Uber driver who offered his personal story to committee members, including how the proliferation of TNC drivers in the state capital has led to a decrease in drunken-driving arrests in the area. Ultimately, the bill passed 10-1 with broad bipartisan support.

Specifically, the bill provides that:

A companion bill has yet to be filed in the state Senate, but unlike House members, senators are not confined to limited bill slots. As such, it is expected that an identical or similar bill will be introduced before the Senate’s bill-filing deadline in January.

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