All you’ve heard about ride-hailing in MIA might not matter by Saturday

Editor’s note: This story was published at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. The status of legislation may have changed since then. 

There’s a pretty wonky governance issue that should be on Miami urbanites radar this legislative session: home rule.

Home rule reserves a bunch of powers for local government, allowing them to enact ordinances and resolutions without prior approval from the state.

The logic goes something like this: Miami’s nothing like Pensacola, so does Miami want legislators from the Panhandle weighing in on our issues? And in hyper-local issues like street light regulation and land use, the value of easily accessible local politicians being the decision-makers is pretty clear.

The driving force behind this is the idea that decisions should be made at the closest level to voters as possible. Supporters like to cite Thomas Jefferson, who said, “The government closest to the people serves the people best.” (If a founding father said it, it must be true, right?)

That’s the case that scores of legislators made a couple weeks ago, when they rallied against a bill that would have made decisions on fracking at the state level, preempting several bans made locally. (Preemption is a word that pro-home rule folks really like to use. Keep it in your legislative lexicon to wow your friends at nerd trivia night.)

The issue united Republicans and Democrats in opposition to the bill, including here in South Florida, and drew in environmental advocacy groups, elevating the issue of home rule to something people were actually talking about.

“You don’t normally have their voice on our side of the issue. Politics make interesting bedfellows,” said Steve Harvey, legislative director at the League of Cities, which represents city governments. “That’s probably why it was in the spotlight more. There were bigger, more public battles about it this year.”

But there’s another issue this session that many say illustrates when home rule should be preempted: ride-hailing. House-sponsored legislation that would prohibit local bans on the service provided by companies like Lyft and Uber, as well as address issues like insurance, is stalled in the Senate with a little more than 24 hours to go, while the Senate has its own version that doesn’t include preemption.

This is what’s got Millennials involved, says Cragin Mosteller, spokeswoman for the Association of Counties, another umbrella group working on behalf of local governments.

“I think the issue of ride sharing has definitely engaged Millennials in the legislative process like there hasn’t been before.”

And in Miami-Dade, at least, some local leaders are hoping that the state will take some of the responsibility out of their hands. The county commissioners have struggled to wrap their heads around the many issues involved in ride-hailing, leaving Lyft and Uber technically still illegal but allowed to operate while commissioners waffle.

“Perhaps the state taking action creates a lot of clarity for local jurisdictions trying to tackle this Uber problem,” said County Commissioner Esteban Bovo, after listing scores of issues in which he favors home rule and vehemently opposes preemption, such as mining – a big issue on the western fringe of the county.

Noting that the commissioners have really struggled with how to settle the issue of whether drivers for ride-hailing services should carry insurance and when, Bovo says the state imposing a decision “is probably more helpful than hurtful at this point.”

“Maybe I would feel differently if residents were up in arms. Really the only one pushing back is the taxi industry,” Bovo said.

But while fracking was shut down swiftly and without much ambiguity, the ride-hailing legislation is mired in negotiations between the Senate and House, whose versions of the legislation have substantial differences. An aggressive ad campaign against Senate President Andy Gardiner, spearheaded by Uber, calls on him to bring forward the House version, which is more favorable to ride-hailing services.

If you are a Florida resident who used the Uber app at some point in the last week, you probably were told to “vote for Uber” on the app, which redirected you to a page asking you to “tell Senator Gardiner to stop holding up access to safe, affordable, reliable rides.”

Amendments are now being heaped on the bills, each of them pushing the final vote further back – even though ride-hailing has a lot of users among legislators, Bovo said.

“Ironically I’ve had legislators in Tallahassee talk to me about this issue and say, ‘Hey, we need to settle this.’ They’re using Uber or Lyft in Tallahassee and finding it’s a good way to be able to move around the community.”

It’s unclear whether it’s going to pass this session at all. That will kick the issue back down to the local governments, who are struggling, Bovo admits.

The commissioners reconvene May 3, and he said that they are hoping to pass something that day — assuming that the ride-hailing legislation dies at the state level Friday. But that hope has been voiced before.

Meanwhile, home rule supporters like Harvey from the League of Cities are happy to see gridlock that delays what they say is a usurpation of their role.

“[They say] there’s this patchwork quilt of regulations. We get that the yellow twin lines down the middle of the road mean you shouldn’t pass. There are some statewide standards that make sense. You don’t want different emissions standards in one county versus another,” concedes Harvey.

“There’s a bunch of things that make sense on a statewide level. There’s a bunch that don’t make sense.”