The City of Tampa made international news last month, and in a great way. Starsky Robotics conducted an autonomous truck driving test on the Selmon Expressway. Such a groundbreaking simulation is possible in Florida because of its statewide climate of innovation-friendly policy. Through strategic and efficient policy, Florida is positioned as the innovation hub for technology and transportation during the rising robotics revolution.
Instead of shying away from innovation, Florida's leaders have embraced it. Former Gov. (now Senator) Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature consistently approved budget allocations north of $10 billion per year for four straight years for projects and developments such as Florida's A-rated roads, the SunTrax test track, and the Jacksonville Ultimate Urban Circulator. During the 2019 legislative session, policymakers passed CS/HB 311, a bill that restructures transportation laws to give autonomous vehicle manufacturers a seat at the table. Important changes made by this bill include allowing a fully automated vehicle to operate without a human operator and designating the engaged autonomous driving system as the legal driver of the vehicle, regardless of a human's presence in the vehicle. In addition, the state's digital infrastructure is getting a massive overhaul, courtesy of the Florida Legislature, to accommodate 5G connections that will allow for an efficient and effective network for autonomous driving systems.
Florida's policy and thought leaders have consciously built a statewide policy framework as opposed to relying on local governments to self-regulate. This effort will result in predictability, reliability, and efficiency—all net gains for Floridians and the more than 125 million visitors we receive each year. Predictability is a determining factor for a business when choosing a "laboratory" in which to develop, test, and expand their enterprise. States with predictable regulatory systems and policy frameworks can offer the security and ability to set up locations throughout the state without worry of violating ordinances and rules. Additionally, reliability is a vital feature of any political climate that strives to be conducive to innovation. Since Florida's technology and transportation laws are all at the state level, these laws can only be preempted by federal laws. Finally, efficiency speaks to the bottom line of any business budget. The ease with which a business can navigate the various aspects of the technology and transportation market -- without having to expend resources on investigating or complying with the ordinances of a particular local government -- is a primary determinant for where that business will stay.
One of the next major steps for Florida in advancing our reputation as an innovation hub is addressing meaningful tort reform. For far too long, Florida has shouldered the burden of being one of the worst states for frivolous lawsuits – for the past several years the American Tort Reform Foundation has listed Florida among its "Judicial Hell Holes" because of the state's poor legal climate. Policymakers should embrace reforms that delicately balance the promotion of growth in the marketplace with adequate protection for consumers and the public. Ultimately, nobody benefits from a tort system in which nefarious actors pursue the deepest pockets, regardless of the direct tie to negligence. DeSantis' commitment here is vital. His recent picks to Florida's Supreme Court are already bearing fruit via the court's recent change to adopt the Daubert standard in expert testimony. Continuing to strengthen mediation and arbitration will also help improve the litigation process and the efficiency of court dockets.
Innovative businesses are attracted to states with bold and innovative policy frameworks – systems that move in a direction that protect emerging markets. Florida's leaders have diligently tailored our policy vision to these demands and are likely to continue in this same direction. Our free-enterprise approach will continue to position the Sunshine State to be the innovation hub for the technology-driven renaissance.
Sal Nuzzo is vice president of policy at The James Madison Institute in Tallahassee. Camille Vazquez is a third year law student at Florida State University College of Law.