Jolly has filed the Gas Pump Access Act, which requires all gas stations offering self-service to place a decal on each gas pump with the station’s phone number. If disabled drivers need help, they can call for assistance. The legislation has its origins as a Hillsborough County ordinance and recently became Florida law. Many gas stations complied with a 1990 federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, by installing call boxes on pumps, but those devices often proved too difficult for disabled customers to access since they usually had to exit their car to use them, advocates say.
The problem with the ADA, said Ben Ritter, a member of Paralyzed Veterans of America, “was that it didn’t spell out how to get the gas pumped.” Disabled drivers were often left to honk, blink their lights and wave to get the attention of gas station attendants, Ritter said. Jolly’s bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Texas Democrat, allows gas stations to bypass expensive call boxes. And it doesn’t apply to stations that have just one attendant on duty.
Mary Twohey, 53, a disabled Dunedin resident, said that before Hillsborough County passed its ordinance in 2011 (quickly followed by Pasco and Pinellas counties), she had to rely on a single gas station that she knew would provide assistance. She lived in fear of running out of gas, she said, as she traveled the bay area for work. “It’s a lot safer now,” Twohey said. Florida passed a law based on the Hillsborough ordinance in 2014. “It’s appropriate to stake what Florida started and make it national law,” Jolly, R-Indian Shores, said at a news conference held between the pumps at a Rally gas station on Ulmerton Road.
Jolly said activists brought the idea to him during one of his “subject matter councils” he convened on disability rights. Jolly is now running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio. Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole has written a letter in support of the legislation, which is also supported by groups such as the Florida Petroleum Marketers, the Convenience Store Association and the J.H. Williams Oil Co. in Tampa.
Michelle Cyr, Tampa Bay field coordinator for AARP, said the legislation would reduce the isolation affecting many disabled people who find it difficult to buy gasoline. “It would remove barriers and allow people access to their communities,” Cyr said.