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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Florida House, Senate split on insurance standards Uber, Lyft must provide

TALLAHASSEE — The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee has approved a bill that would provide statewide insurance standards for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies that use smart phone apps to summon drivers for hire.

Senate Bill 1118, sponsored by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, departs greatly from House Bill 509 by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, in that it would require drivers of ride-hailing companies to carry nearly the same level of insurance as taxicab drivers. The House version proposes a sliding scale depending on the stage of the trip.

“This clarifies what has been a money situation, it protects citizens from drunk drivers … and achieves parity between two competing businesses,” said John Camillo, president of Yellow Cab, which operates in Broward County and Tallahassee.

Insurance company representatives also supported the measure. While not perfect, it comes closer to addressing gaps in insurance coverage but contained some new elements that bore closer analysis, said Katie Webb, spokeswoman for Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

The association will continue to work with lawmakers to ensure that the bill comports with model compromise legislation 28 other states that “safeguards consumers by requiring the necessary insurance coverage be put in place from the time the app is turned on to the time the app is turned off,” said Logan McFaddin, state government relations counsel for the insurers association.

Uber representatives were taken by surprise by Simmons’ “last-minute decision” to replace his original bill with a substitute that strays from the ride-hailing companies’ own insurance guidelines.

“By adding red tape and imposing artificial costs, the amended Simmons bill would limit the number of Floridians who can access the economic opportunity provided by ridesharing,” said Stephanie Smith, public policy manager for Uber.

Simmons said his sole concern was protecting consumers, drivers and other citizens in the case of an accident.

The bill Simmons originally filed mirrored the House version, which requires drivers engaged in or logged into ride-hailing companies to carry liability insurance of at least $50,000 for death and dismemberment, $100,000 for death and bodily injury per incident, and $25,000 property damage. Once they’ve collected a passenger and are on a trip, the insurance would go up to $1 million for death, bodily injury and property damage.

But Simmons submitted an amendment that requires ride-hail companies or their drivers to carry $125,000 death and dismemberment per person, $250,000 death and bodily injury per incident and $50,000 property damage from the time they log onto the app to the time they log off and become a private motorist again.

Taxicab companies are required by state law to provide the same levels of insurance for their drivers at all times.

Simmons’ bill also would set forth disclosure requirements about accidents that occur while drivers are logged into the app.

Simmons’ bill doesn’t deal with background checks, permit fees and the pre-emption issue of local regulations, as the House version does.

Senate President-elect Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said the measure provides legal protection of passengers, drivers and pedestrians in the event of an accident, and treats emerging new companies like Uber and Lyft the same as the legacy taxicab companies.

“This will remove the barriers to competition,” Negron said.

Trying to retrofit new technology into existing regulations doesn’t always work, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said.

“Sometimes the best way to level the playing field is to lower the obligation to the existing companies,” Lee said.

He said he was glad thatthe Legislature could provide consumer protection and public safety.

“I think we’ve hit a sweet spot,” Lee said.

But the bill is likely to hit a wall in the House, which has its own version that is more in line with what the ride-hailing companies have agreed to.

One big hurdle is the difference in the amount ride-hail companies would pay to operate in the state. The House bill would require each company to pay a single statewide $5,000 permit fee per company to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Taxicab companies pay thousands per car to each county, municipality, airport and port authorities that require such permits to carry passengers for hire.

Almost 30 states have passed regulations for ride-hailing companies, said Mark Stempler, a lawyer for taxicab and limousine companies.

“Florida will follow, if not now, then in the near future,” Stempler said. “What those regulations look like is another story.”

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SB 1118 would set statewide insurance requirements for all ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft operating in the state of Florida, and pre-empt any local insurance regulations.

The sponsor is Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, (407) 262-7578, [email protected]

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