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Florida Senate poised to sign off on Uber/Lyft plan

A long-debated proposal pitting traditional cab companies and local governments against app-based ridesharing firms appears ready to cross the legislative finish line Wednesday.

The Senate on Tuesday set up for a final vote the proposal (HB 221), which would institute statewide rules for “transportation network companies” such as Uber and Lyft.

RELATED: Complete Florida Legislature coverage

The measure, backed by the ridesharing industry, continues to include insurance and background-check requirements that are less stringent than what critics have previously sought. But proponents say the requirements fit with national models.

“This is largely what the industry standard is around the country,” Senate sponsor Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said.

The House unanimously approved the measure last month. Senators agreed to take up the House bill and did not make any changes during a floor session Tuesday. If the bill is approved Wednesday, it will go to Gov. Rick Scott.

Brandes, who has been working on the proposal for four years, said he expects only a few votes in opposition.

The issue, however, has been the focus of lobbying battles in recent years, pitting the deep pockets of ridesharing companies such Uber and Lyft against taxicab companies and local governments. It has been controversial because it would prevent local governments from imposing regulations on the industry. Cab companies are often regulated at the local level and have argued that they could be put at a competitive disadvantage.

While winning House support in the past, similar proposals 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.

But last year, a number of House members who backed the ridesharing proposals won election to the Senate, and Gardiner, upon leaving office, was replaced as president by Stuart Republican Joe Negron.

With those changes, opponents continued to fight the proposal this year while acknowledging it was likely to get approved.

During the committee process, former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, lobbying on behalf of the Florida Taxicab Association, cautioned that the proposal would tie the hands of local governments.

“We currently have a problem in Broward County where there are an exorbitant number of cars that are circling the airport and the seaport, and the local governments will have no opportunity to address those issues,” Bogdanoff told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. “Under this particular bill, any of the fees that helped them with the local regulation, or any of problems that may arise from the TNC (transportation network companies) industry and its proliferation, are going to be wiped out under this bill.”

Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican who has supported the bill, raised a concern Tuesday that the proposal could allow public facilities, such as airports or seaports, to lock out some firms through exclusivity deals with individual ride-sharing companies.

However, Lee withdrew an amendment to address the “exclusivity” concern, saying he would continue to work on the issue in other legislation.

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