The Big Idea: A Conversation with Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes

Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes joins Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy podcast to discuss the big idea and why Florida is the perfect environment to operate autonomous vehicles.

The conversation begins with Senator Brandes discussing his experience serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a transportation officer. During his time in Iraq, Senator Brandes read Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman. This book had a profound effect on him and changed the way he sees the world, chooses to govern, and propose legislation.

Operating convoys in Iraq also had a tremendous impact on Senator Brandes. One that would lead to one Senator Brandes Big Ideas a Florida State Legislator.

It would be a lot safer if I did not have to have soldiers in these convoys and they could operate autonomously.

– Florida State Senator Brandes

As an incoming State Senator in 2012, Senator Brandes wanted to distinguish himself from a great class of legislators. To do this, he reached into his past experience and embraced a Big Idea – Autonomous Vehicles after watching Sebastian Thrun‘s Google’s driverless car TED Talk over a dozen times.

There is one big idea in every area of public policy.

– Florida State Senator Brandes

To make this Big Idea a reality, Senator Brandes reached out to Google and sought their assistance. The legislation which made testing autonomous vehicles on public roads legal passed unanimously and HB 1207 was signed by Governor Rick Scott in 2012.

HB 1207 laid the groundwork for what Florida has become today, the Capital of Autonomous Vehicle deployments and commercialization in North America.

Florida has the best laws on the books as it relates to self-driving. We have the best laws on the books as it relates to ride-sharing.

– Florida State Senator Brandes

Innovative companies have a long history of moving and expanding their operations to Florida from California partly due to regulation. This trend started in earnest when Walt Disney began acquiring land in the 1960’s to develop Walt Disney World.

Today, history is repeating itself as innovative autonomous vehicle companies such as Argo AI and Luminar are operating in the State. They are creating high-paying jobs and having a positive impact on the economy.

You have to be competitive globally, not just amongst the States. What can we do to remove the barriers? Florida has the perfect environment to operate these types of vehicles.

– Florida State Senator Brandes

When you combine Florida’s tourism industry with frictionless mobility services, magic happens.

Florida is a mobility story as much as it is anything else. Whether it be Henry Flagler or Walt Disney. These are all mobility stories.

– Florida State Senator Brandes

From autonomous mobility to space flights, Florida is leading on innovation. Florida is also leading on issues such as criminal justice reform. It is an issue that Senator Brandes has championed as it is a big idea.

Senator Brandes shares the story of how he first became interested in criminal justice reform. It’s a powerful heart-wrenching story. A story that leads Senator Brandes to take a leadership position working on solutions that will have a positive impact on society.

Another issue that is impacting businesses and schools today is COVID-19. Senator Brandes has filed legislation to protect health care providers, businesses, and schools from COVID-19 liabilities. The conversation evolves into a discussion about Governor Ron DeSantis’ decision to open schools and the long-term positive impact on children in Florida.

It was the best decision [Governor Ron DeSantis] made since the beginning of COVID.

– Florida State Senator Brandes

With schools open, businesses open, companies are flocking to Florida in droves. The trend did not just start with COVID, it just accelerated. The trend began when Argo AI chose Miami as one of the autonomous vehicle test cities in 2018.

We have created this environment where technology can thrive and where the taxes are of a lower nature. Where it’s a strong incentive to consider relocating here.

– Florida State Senator Brandes

Wrapping up the conversation, Grayson and Senator Brandes discuss the major mobility changes they see happening in Florida over the next ten years. Including how the State is preparing for the transition to electric vehicles and how safely evacuate individuals’ electric vehicles during a hurricane.

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Recorded on Friday, February 19, 2021