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State budget becomes newest battleground for local governments' Uber bans

The Senate is hoping to use the budget to stop local governments from banning or regulating Uber.

In its latest proposed civil and criminal justice budget, senators included language banning ordinances that get in the way of ridesharing companies or any moves by cities and counties to treat them like taxicabs.

The language, which has to be agreed to by the House, is tied to a $10,000 budget item to study the impact of ridesharing on reducing drunk driving.

“There is evidence that the use of transportation network services actually results in fewer DUI arrests and crashes,” said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the Senate’s justice appropriations chairman. “While we’re in the process of confirming that, it probably would be best for us not to have local governments and other governments restricting them unnecessarily.”

Existing bans would not be affected, he said.

Because the language would be tied to the budget, it would only be in place until April 1, 2016.

The idea was brought forward by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who along with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, has pushed for legislation that would allow Uber to continue operating in Florida.

Local governments across the state, including Hillsborough County, have fought hard against Uber’s expansion into Florida, by trying to either ban them outright or hold them to the same laws as taxicabs.

Attempts to pass bills addressing insurance and the issue of local government intervention failed in the final weeks of the regular session as breakdown over health care funding took center stage in the legislative process.

Times/Herald staff writer Jeremy Wallace contributed to this report.