Saturday, December 19, 2009

Predatory Towing Legislation Moving Forward In Tampa

Here's the Tampa Bay Online story:

TAMPA - Legislation designed to crack down on rogue towing companies who prey on motorists in Tampa and Hillsborough County is headed for Tallahassee.

Hillsborough County lawmakers today gave a nod to a bill that would give the county's Public Transportation Commission enforcement powers over towing companies that target cars on private business property without the owner's written permission.

Victor DiMaio, a lobbyist for the commission, said the panel has received numerous complaints about towing companies patrolling neighborhoods for cars parked outside restaurants and other businesses, shaking down motorists for hefty towing charges.

He said law enforcement agencies are too overwhelmed to deal with the problem.

Approval of the measure by the 16-member delegation means it will be submitted for consideration by the state House and Senate in the upcoming legislative session. The legislation was offered in this year's session, but never made it to the floor for a vote.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, a frequent critic of the transportation commission from her time as a county commissioner, cast the lone dissenting vote against it, which was sponsored by State Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City and Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa.

The towing legislation was one of several local bills approved by the delegation during its annual organization meeting today at the University of South Florida's Tampa campus.

Another bill – which was also given a nod by the delegation – sponsored by Storms and Glorioso, would to make it easier for citizens to challenge the rules of the transportation commission by giving the state more regulatory authority over its rulings and policies.

The legislation delegation also approved a bill to make changes to Tampa's pension plan system for general employees so that it complies with all federal regulations.

State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who is sponsoring the bill, said it also empowers the Tampa City Council to alter the plan to conform to future changes of federal law.

If the bill doesn't pass, the city could face fines from federal regulators, City Attorney Chip Fletcher said. The bill, he said, would not alter benefits or contribution levels.

Another bill sponsored by Joyner would make it easier for Tampa's firefighters and police officers to decide where a portion of their pension contributions is invested.

"This gives employees an opportunity to choose less risky investments," Fletcher said.

Those proposed changes must still be approved by the city's police and fire unions.

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