GCLA Works To Spare Chauffeurs Wrath Of Sign Police

Posted on April 7, 2010 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

Quick action from lobbyists amends a proposed bill so that chauffeurs picking up clients at San Francisco International Airport won’t get busted for solicitation.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A proposed bill making its way through California’s state legislature now carries an amendment that makes sure chauffeurs who hold up signs for clients at San Francisco International Airport and answer questions about their services from curious passers-by don’t get charged with a misdemeanor for solicitation on airport property.

The amendment was added to the Assembly Bill (AB) 1885 during a hearing of the California State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee Tuesday after lobbyists from the GREATER CALIFORNIA LIVERY ASSOCIATION persuaded lawmakers to include the amendment.

At issue is an anti-solicitation rule at the San Francisco International Airport that bans anyone from selling and/or offering unauthorized products and services on airport property. Violators are charged with a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail. The current law, however, exempts charter-party carriers, such as luxury limousine operators, licensed by the California Public Utilities Commission. SFO officials, who are sponsoring AB 1885, wanted to strike that exemption from the proposed bill.

The exemption itself has always been irrelevant since licensed legal operators and chauffeurs handle only pre-arranged transportation service that does not involve any selling or solicitous activity on airport property. The GCLA generally supports anti-solicitation measures since they deter illegal limousine operators trying to peddle their services on airport property.

But Gregg Cook, a lobbyist with Government Affairs Consulting of Sacramento, the firm retained by the GCLA, became concerned that the airport’s habitually over-zealous law enforcement would nevertheless find ways to charge legitimate chauffeurs with misdemeanor violations if the exemption were removed.

Without the exemption, airport law enforcement could potentially cite a chauffeur waiting for a client who holds up a sign with his company’s logo and the client’s name, claiming it is a form of advertising, hence solicitation, Cook said. A chauffeur also could potentially be cited for simply answering questions from curious travelers wanting to know about the chauffeur’s transportation services, and then handing out a business card.

The GCLA's concerns about such enforcement behavior have intensified since 2008 when a chauffeur working for a Bay Area-based operator was cited because of a sign he carried at SFO. The chauffeur, who was waiting for a client on a delayed flight, needed to use the restroom, so he leaned his sign bearing his company’s logo and the client name against a wall and went into the restroom. When the chauffeur emerged from the restroom, an airport police officer had torn the sign into pieces, claiming it was a form of illegal advertising and solicitation.

Given such concerns, Cook and his fellow lobbyists this week asked AB 1885’s author, Rep. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo County, to include the detailed language in the amendment that defines solicitation and then specifically exempts for-hire licensed charter-party carriers, such as chauffeured transportation operators. If not, Cook said the GCLA would oppose the bill and the lobbying team would line-up the votes to kill it. Hill agreed to the language.

The bill now must spend a few months going through another Assembly committee, a Senate committee, and then to the floors of both the Assembly and the Senate for final votes before being signed by the Governor.

— Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine

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