In our Tech Talks series, we engage with tech leaders, policymakers, and entrepreneurs to discuss the tech world in the Magnolia state and promote public engagement on key tech issues.
For this edition of Tech Talks, we are featuring state Senator Scott DeLano. Senator DeLano serves as the Technology Committee chairman and the vice-chairman of the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
Let’s hear from Senator DeLano …
- Matthew: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your role as the chairman of the Senate Technology Committee?
I have served in the Mississippi Legislature for the last 12 years. After having spent ten years in the state House, I was elected to the state senate.
When I served in the House, Speaker Philip Gunn originally appointed me to be the Constitution Committee chairman. I also served as the Appropriations Subcommittee chairman for ITS, MDA and MEMA. In these roles, I found that I worked on a lot of technical questions, so the Technology Committee was created to facilitate these technical matters more effectively. I served in this capacity for the remainder of my time in the House.
In 2019, I successfully ran for an open Senate seat in Harrison County. Upon my arrival in the Senate, the Lieutenant Governor appointed me to be the chairman of the newly created Technology Committee, with a key focus on the modernization of technology services for state agencies. However, the committee is also intended to address tech issues that impact the private sector in the state. This is a significant part of the committee’s purpose as well.
- Matthew: What are some key tech legislation issues that were covered by the legislature in 2020 and being considered for 2021?
One important issue that we worked on last year is computer science in public education. The legislature is working on creating a clear pathway for computer science and technology classes to be taught in every public-school district in the state. The main element of this entails integrating computer science courses into existing school course curriculum. This is a significant issue that we are working on in the Education Committee.
A second priority was emergency communications as it relates to Next Generation 9-1-1. This program brings internet communications into the dispatches across the state and insures all 911 service fees collected go to the benefit of each county’s Emergency Communication District.
Currently, our first responders are primarily limited to telephone traffic. They cannot currently integrate communications, such as texting and other forms, into 9-1-1 emergency calls. For example, we have technologies such as wireless help buttons for the elderly and telehealth video options. We want to integrate these technologies into our existing emergency dispatch systems.
These two issues that we worked on last year will be a priority in 2021, as well. However, this is just the beginning. We are looking to explore what further reforms we can make to encourage tech advancements in the state.
- Matthew: Much of the current conversation in the state relates to the issue of broadband internet access. What are some goals that legislators have in regard to broadband and the effective management of the funds allocated for broadband?
During the 2020 session, the legislature passed several bills that directed over $250 million dollars from the CARES act that focused on expanding broadband availability throughout the state. For instance, the legislature appropriated matching funds for Electric Cooperative Associations that yielded over 150 million dollars in new broadband infrastructure development to unserved areas of rural Mississippi. In a separate appropriation, we provided over $100 million dollars to provide laptop computers and connectivity to all public and private schools in the state. We are tracking these funds to make sure that these funds are used properly. This includes following up with the recipients of the funds, reviewing the recipients’ use of the funds, and ensuring that the funds are actually accomplishing their intended purpose.
I have made it one of my key priorities to engage in discussions with fellow legislators about the best allocation and application of these funds. These are significant amounts of money. The legislature has a duty to ensure that these funds are utilized in a fiscally responsible way.
- Matthew: Does the Legislature have any policy objectives that will help prevent new technologies from being smothered by outdated regulatory policies?
One of my roles as the Technology Committee chairman is to help give the state the best opportunity to attract new businesses by ensuring that we are very cautious not to stymie innovation in the marketplace.
Just as one example, automobile manufacturers such as Nissan and Toyota are developing innovative technologies such as automatic lane correction and autonomous driving right here in our State. But the development of these safety features requires tests to be conducted and data to be collected. There have been laws passed in several states that would prohibit some of this data from being collected. I am very careful, and I think our state should be very careful, not to pass legislation that could prevent innovative research and development. We want to create a balanced regulatory environment that is optimal for us to attract companies and businesses, jobs, and prosperity into our state. This balance is critical to protect the public from harm while protecting the economy from crippling regulations. This is essential in helping Mississippi to grow.
- Matthew: What are some obstacles to tech that your committee has considered?
You would be surprised at how much of a barrier different interpretations of language and terminology pose. For example, what is defined as broadband in an urbanized area of the state may have a completely different meaning than what is acceptable broadband in rural Mississippi. The technical terminology differences can be challenging to lawmakers who are trying to apply this terminology to their constituents’ needs. To remedy this issue, we have had to do a lot of clarification on definitions and meaning.
- Matthew: As the Technology Committee chairman, what technological future do you see for Mississippi?
As a committee chairman, I stay informed on tech issues around the country. I provide a point of reason and knowledge for the legislature. It is our goal to implement successful policies from states all over the country. I want to see these policies custom-tailored to encourage prosperity in Mississippi.
This technologically-driven prosperity should be encouraged by passing legislation that gets government out of the way and lets the free market take the lead. By pursuing this path, we want to foster innovation, because it is innovation that provides the cutting-edge technologies that will be required to drive our economy in the future. It will be exciting to see what lies ahead for our state.
Senator Scott DeLano is the Chairman of the Mississippi Senate Technology Committee.
Matthew Nicaud is the Tech Policy Analyst at MCPP and your host for Tech Talks.