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Uber Builds in-App VOTE Feature to Pressure Florida Legislators

The ride-sharing company said it turned on the new feature because without some movement, a bill to set statewide rules for ride-hailing services in Florida is dead.

(TNS) -- Uber accused Florida's Senate president of "selling us out" and unveiled a software application Monday designed to apply mobile-phone and social-media pressure to bring legislation to a vote in the session's final week.

Uber said it turned on the new app because without some movement, a bill to set statewide rules for ride-hailing services in Florida is dead.

"Uber launches a new app experience, VOTE, in Florida asking riders to vote on access to Uber throughout the state and take to social media to voice their support," company spokesman Bill Gibbons said.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, "continues to hide behind procedural excuses for why he won't allow his colleagues in the Senate to take an up-or-down vote on the House ridesharing bill," Gibbons said.

Part of the campaign message: "Florida deserves access to ridesharing — but Andy Gardiner is selling us out to his rich taxi friends and restricting our access."

A spokeswoman for Gardiner, who was feted by colleagues Monday as his term comes to a close, declined comment on the app and said the Senate version is "available for a vote on the Senate floor."

The Florida House passed a version Uber and other ride services favor. It forbids local governments to set any rules on background checks or other matters, saying that avoids a patchwork of regulations. It provides for background checks similar to what ride services already do.

The Senate version, which awaits a floor vote, pre-empts local governments only on insurance requirements and beefs up required coverage in certain situations.

Taxi interests say proposed legislation lets Uber escape many requirements they face, and provides no insurance coverage in certain situations.

Example: An Uber driver picks up a street hail, or kindly agrees to take an elderly woman to the doctor on Tuesdays because she finds the app difficult to use. It is against company policy but various media reports show it happens. Yet a claim on the driver's personal policy could be denied completely by his insurer based on a "livery" exclusion if there's a paying passenger in the car.

That means in both the House and Senate versions ride-share drivers with the app off can become a "100 percent uninsured motorist," taxi driver Jennifer Condie of West Palm Beach said.

©2016 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.