Florida Capital Bureau
Posted: March 06, 2014
Written by: Paul Flemming
A business-backed proposal to provide uniform rules for gas stations to aid drivers with disabilities was approved by a House committee Wednesday, but not before advocates and counties raised objections that the bill would preempt local ordinances, including in Leon County.
Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa and sponsor of the bill (HB 185), said he was open to work out differences as the proposal continues to move through the Legislature. The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee passed the bill along with only Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, voting against.
The bill would require decals on all the fuel pumps at the state’s more than 9,000 gas stations that display a phone number for drivers with disabilities to call when they need help filling up. Federal law requires stations to provide assistance, but only when two or more employees are on duty, and the process often faltered. Leon County Commission in October approved an ordinance that requires large gas stations with more than 10 pumps to provide assistance to those with disabilities using wireless technology.
“I can’t do it myself. I have to bring a paid aide or my wife with me to help me fuel my gas tank,” said J.R. Harding, a Tallahassee Americans with Disabilities Act consultant and a chief proponent of the Leon County ordinance, explaining the advantages offered by more advanced help than is possible with a phone call. “Here in Leon County we actually have a model county ordinance that does just that.”
Melissa Ramba, representing the Florida Retail Federation, said its membership favors a consistent policy throughout the state, particularly for station operators that have locations across multiple counties.
Nick Matthews, legislative coordinator for Broward County, which also has its own ordinance, said the bill would limit local control.
“The contents of this bill is a strict preemption,” Matthews said. “It would nullify our ordinance on this issue.”
Danish said business owners would not be stopped from offering more complete service, only that local governments could not mandate it.
“Counties were mandating that things be done by these small businesses. You know, we have a free market,” said Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, suggesting that stations with better service, including for drivers with disabilities, would attract more customers.
Jeff Sharkey, who lobbies on behalf of Leon County, asked committee members to respect local control. “We also have a model ordinance that really does meet the needs of the disabled community in our county,” Sharkey said.
Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, suggested a grandfather clause for Leon, Broward and Pinellas counties’ ordinances could solve the problem.
A similar bill is filed in the Senate. The House version has one more committee assignment.