As Accidents and Assaults Pile Up, Sen. Brandes Pulls ‘End Around’ for Uber
To say that Florida Senator Jeff Brandes has been a champion for Uber would be an under-statement. The Senator has pushed “model legislation,” written by Uber, as a solution for any regulatory impediment the company may encounter in Florida now or in the future.
Uber’s “model legislation,” which passed the House earlier this session (HB 509), lets them off the hook from a number of regulatory measures that traditional taxi and other vehicle-for-hire operators have complied with for decades.
For example, Uber’s bill would prohibit any regulator, law enforcement officer, city or county from requiring fingerprints of any Uber driver for criminal background checks. The bill sets lower limits for insurance for the app companies when they are not carrying passengers, which also happens to be the time most accidents occur. It gives Uber a pass on ADA laws and requires a whopping $5,000 license for Uber to operate throughout the entire State of Florida, when taxi companies are paying millions in taxes, fees and licenses to state and local governments.
Fortunately, in the Senate, Rules Chairman David Simmons has worked with all parties involved, including taxi companies, transportation network companies (TNCs), the insurance industry and legal community, to reach consensus on the subject of how best to regulate TNCs. The result is a bill that closes the “insurance doughnut hole” for TNC drivers, requires insurance levels to protect the traveling public and provides some “limited preemption” or regulatory relief for companies like Uber and LYFT.
But Uber will accept no compromise nor offer any concessions, short of passing their own “model bill” that is stuck in legislative limbo. While the bill passed the House, Senator Brandes and Uber failed to even offer a companion bill in the Senate, rendering the House bill effectively dead on arrival in the Senate. Faced with the prospect that Uber’s “model legislation” might not pass, Senator Brandes has gone from “Champion” to “Panderer.”
As soon as Senator Simmons introduced his compromise legislation, a bill that required weeks of meetings and concessions from all parties, Brandes introduced a “strike all” amendment to effectively replace the Senate bill with the House bill.
This is not the first time Sen. Brandes has done Uber’s bidding. Late last week, when nobody was watching, Senator Brandes tried to slip in an amendment to an unrelated highway safety bill. The amendment by Brandes would have removed Uber from the definition of “for-hire” vehicles, made Uber exempt from any future regulations and ensured Uber never had to purchase commercial insurance. Fortunately, that amendment didn’t pass.
The Florida Taxicab Association (FTA) has consistently supported common sense regulations and insurance for Uber, Lyft and all Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) to ensure there is coverage that matches the risk associated with providing vehicle-for-hire services to the public, including 24/7 commercial insurance and fingerprint-verified criminal background checks.
The FTA, Uber, Lyft, insurance companies, the trial bar and Senator David Simmons negotiated on a framework for regulations of TNCs. Senator Brandes’ Uber amendment is a just an “end around” on the process, undermining the committee meetings and negotiations that have taken place for months.
The FTA calls on Senator Brandes to drop his special amendment for Uber and respect the legislative process.