I’m Matthew Nicaud, the Tech Policy Specialist at MCPP, and your host for the Tech Talks interview series. In our Tech Talks, we engage with tech leaders, policy makers, and entrepreneurs to discuss the tech world in the Magnolia state and promote public thought on key tech issues.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Senator Angela Hill. We discussed a variety of engaging issues related to innovation and the promotion of free market policies. Senator Hill serves as the Chair of the County Affairs Committee and the Vice-chair of the Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee.

Senator Hill recently introduced two bills, SB2976, and SB2975. These bills would create platforms for innovation. Known as a “regulatory sandbox,” these platforms would allow innovators to introduce their innovations to the market without being suppressed by heavy-handed regulations. 

These bills would be among the first of their kind in Mississippi and would lay a pathway for innovators to increase opportunity in the state. We recently interviewed Senator Hill to discuss these bills and how they would impact innovation in Mississippi.

Matthew: Why is it important that Mississippi has a regulatory environment that is friendly to innovation?

Senator Angela Hill: Innovation is a critical part of maintaining a competitive economy and expanding opportunities. An economy that stagnates will decline. If the state government regulates innovators so much that they can’t even grow and test their ideas, then there is little opportunity for growth. Measured deregulation is an economic development issue as much as it is a regulatory issue. Instead of setting up more state programs, the state should get out of the way and let hard-working Mississippians generate prosperity in an open economy.

By definition, innovation is new and disruptive to the status quo in a positive way. New innovations often allow for new job opportunities, solve problems, lead to greater efficiency, and generate business growth. This is incredibly beneficial from an economic perspective. Despite all these benefits, regulators sometimes misunderstand innovators. This can lead to companies being forced to fulfill complex and burdensome regulations that stifle innovation.

For instance, Vizaline is a prime example of the state of Mississippi stifling innovation through an overzealous regulatory board that brings suits against private companies in a crony protectionist fashion. Vizaline uses publicly available land descriptions to create a geospatial rendering of property parcels through computer software. After years of litigation, the suit against Vizaline cost state taxpayers and this innovative company a lot of money. Additionally, this same board unsuccessfully sued another company prior to Vizaline, and the taxpayer was on the hook for this large bill too. 

The board eventually conceded the case and changed the regulations in favor of Vizaline. Vizaline now operates in multiple states across the Southeast, yet it is troubling that the legal battle had to happen in their home state of Mississippi. This speaks volumes about why we desperately need regulatory reform in this state. We have plenty of anti-competitive statutes on the books that we need to get rid of as well as a sound check on these burdensome regulatory boards. The regulatory sandbox is a step in the right direction. We need more small business innovators to be welcomed, not hindered. Government just needs to get out of the way of innovation.  

There should be safeguards in place that allow Mississippi innovators to develop their innovations and build more successful businesses. To that end, I am advocating for practical solutions that lower the regulatory burden in our state. These practical solutions address the issue through policies such as regulatory repeal, occupational licensing reforms, and regulatory sandboxes.   

Matthew: What is a regulatory sandbox? 

Senator Hill: It is the key solution I am using to be proactive in making Mississippi innovation-friendly. A “regulatory sandbox” program grants a waiver to the program participants, allowing them to be exempt from any unnecessary regulatory requirements while developing an innovation. I introduced two bills that put this proposal forward. 

The first bill was SB2975. This bill had a particular focus on allowing for innovation in the energy sector. This would include energy management software systems, energy trading via blockchain, energy efficiency development, and other energy innovations. Although energy sandboxes have been allowed under limited circumstances in other states, Mississippi would be one of the first states to implement a regulatory platform that accommodates energy innovators actively.

The second bill was SB2976. This bill takes a broader approach and allows any innovator from any industry to be exempt from unnecessary regulations over a specified period of time during the innovation development. This would be groundbreaking legislation. A similar measure was just successfully implemented in Utah, and it received a robustly positive response from entrepreneurs in the state. There are so many Mississippi innovators that have ideas to bring to the table. We should make it easy for them to put their ideas to work by not smothering them with regulations. 

Matthew: How would regulatory sandboxes benefit everyday Mississippians?

Senator Hill: Regulatory sandboxes would help by encouraging innovation to happen right here in our home state. The people of this state want to see new businesses and ideas happening in their own communities and not just in faraway corporate offices. By having regulatory sandboxes, we are providing a platform for everyday Mississippians to have a chance at pursuing their bright ideas.

Another thing to consider is the small business angle. According to the Small Business Administration, 99 percent of Mississippi businesses are small businesses. When you look at innovation development from a small business owner’s perspective, many don’t have the resources necessary to meet complex regulatory requirements. Sure, big companies can often afford to meet all the excessive regulatory requirements that it takes to get their innovations approved. But even big businesses are leaving states like California that make it difficult for their innovators. In order for innovation to expand in Mississippi, state policy has to protect innovators from unnecessary regulatory obstacles.  

Matthew: Could regulatory sandboxes potentially make Mississippi more economically competitive with other states?

Senator Hill: Absolutely. Regulatory sandbox programs have been successful in several states across the country and around the world. States with regulatory sandboxes have seen a consistent track record of growth and development across multiple economic sectors. For instance, several states have instituted regulatory sandboxes in the financial technology sector. They have seen companies coming to do business because of that freedom to explore technology concepts without the burden of unnecessary regulation. Other successful regulatory sandboxes that have allowed for innovation include insurance, energy, and legal services. The model has been extremely popular with start-up companies that don’t have the amount of capital it would take to meet complex regulatory requirements. 

When businesses consider whether they want to come to our state (or stay in our state), many will look at how friendly we are to innovation. Other states are welcoming them with open arms. Why should Mississippi be left behind? By allowing innovators to set up shop in our state, Mississippi has the potential to tremendously grow as businesses bring their talent to the state and build our economy with their skills. This is a commonsense policy. Let’s forge ahead to make Mississippi a destination for the best and brightest innovators by removing regulatory boundaries.

You can learn more about the Mississippi Technology Institute here: https://mspolicy.org/mississippi-tech-institute/