Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Council Indefinitely Defers Limo Price-fixing Repeal Bill.

Davette Blalock
Tonight, ordinance BL2011-49 sponsored by Council member Davette Blalock which would have repealed the limousine price fixing provision of the Metro code, was deferred indefinitely. This followed a mandatory deferral in December. In December a committee had recommended deferral. When a committee recommends deferral a bill must be deferred for one meeting. The next time a bill is before a committee, even if the committee again recommends deferral, deferral is not mandatory.

The bill had a mixed reception from the various committee's considering it. The powerful Budget and Finance Committee voted 4 in favor, 10 opposed and 1 abstention. The Convention and Tourism committee failed to return a recommendation, voting 2 in favor and 2 opposed. The Public Safety Committee voted 1 in favor, 1 abstention and 4 opposed. The Transportation and Aviation Committee voted 4 in favor and 0 opposed.

Charlie Tygert
The Council's leading opponent of the bill was Councilman Charlie Tygert. He argued that all of the parties needed to come together and draw up a comprehensive bill rather than taking a piecemeal approach to amending the current code. He explained that the reason we have the current code provisions was because limo's were acting like taxis and the $45 fee was to distinguish them from taxis. Other opponents of BL2011-49 argued that the current price fixing portion of the code had not been in place long enough to evaluate whether or not it was working and argued that most of the industry supported the current law. They also made a general argument that the current regulations were necessary for public health and safety but never did explain what a $45 minimum fee had to do with health and safety.

Jacobia Dowell
A council member with whom I was not previously acquainted but who greatly impressed me, who spoke forcibly in favor to the bill, was District 32 Council Member Jacobia Dowell. She argued that there was a an immediate problem that needed to be addressed and a delay was not fair to those being adversely effected by the current price-fixing provision.

Mr. Brian McQuiston, Director of the Transportation Licensing Commission, argued that Metro needed to hire an outside consultant to evaluate and advise metro on transportation regulation policy.  

Bill Pridemore
Councilman Pridemore questioned why we should spend the money on outside consultant when we should be able to figure this out on our own. Pridemore, a former policeman, brought a moment of levity to the deliberations when he said something to the effect, "As a policeman, if I had an encounter with a bad guy, I didn't have the luxury of calling a consultant to ask if I should shoot or not. Don't we have anyone smart enough in Nashville to study this issue?" In committee he ended up voting in favor of the bill.

Councilman Tygert said the administration wished to have the issue studied by an outside consultant. It was explained that to hire an outside consultant to help study the issue and draft legislation, that Request for Proposals would have to be issued and proposals evaluated. It would be a time consuming process.

When it came to the floor of the Council for consideration, Council Member Blalock moved to defer the bill indefinitely. On second reading a bill must have the votes of a majority of those present in order for it to pass. Two council members were absent and one member had said he would have to abstain due to a conflict of interest so passage was in doubt. One of those who was absent was thought to have been a favorable vote had he been present. Also, one of the members who we had thought would be in favor of the bill was Jerry Maynard, but he voted against it in committee. The sponsor was not sure she had 19 votes which would have been required for passage. The vote was going to be so close that the sponsor did the prudent thing and deferred the bill.

An indefinite deferral does not mean the bill is dead. According to the rules of the Council, a council member who has indefinitely deferred a bill may at any time request that the bill be placed on the next agenda of the council and the clerk shall place it on the agenda for the next meeting. Hopefully, at least some of those members of the Council who said they wanted a more comprehensive look at limousine and taxi regulation were sincere and will now get to work drafting an improved bill. Hopefully they were not all simply trying to kill the bill by continuous delay.

It is my hope that the sponsor will not allow this bill to die a slow death. If there is a not a speedy drafting of a more comprehensive bill, then the sponsor should bring the bill back and force the council members to take a stand. Even if it does not pass, I want to know who believes in free markets and who supports crony capitalism. Those who believe it is the proper role of government to protect the well-connected from competition should be on record voting for the price-fixing status quo. 

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