Nebraskanomics: Sen. Anna Wishart on Regulatory Sandboxes
A Nebraska state senator is proposing one way state agencies can ready the rulemaking process for changes in technology, and make sure innovative firms or business models aren’t stifled by outdated regulations. Click here to read a transcript of this episode.
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Jim Vokal: Technological change is now occurring so rapidly it often outpaces policymakers, who are operating with rules that no longer fit the times. My guest today is a Nebraska state center with a bill that would help cutting-edge companies work with regulators to make Nebraska a better state for innovation. If you’d like more conversations like this please subscribe to Nebraskanomics on YouTube or follow us on your favorite listening platform.
Joining us now is state Sen. Anna Wishart, representing areas west and southwest of downtown Lincoln. Thank you for visiting with us today, Senator, on Nebraskanomics.
Sen. Anna Wishart: Thank you both for having me. I’m very excited to talk about this important issue.
Jim Vokal: All right, Senator, you’re the introducer of LB1127, which would create a regulatory sandbox in Nebraska. The bill is being considered by the Legislature’s Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee, and although we have some recreation-related proposals up for consideration this year, I’m guessing it’s not a proposal to build an actual sandbox. So let’s get started by describing what is a regulatory sandbox and how does this policy apply to Nebraska entrepreneurs and industries.
Sen. Anna Wishart: Sure, Jim. Well, no, this is not an actual sandbox. This is actually a policy that I’ve been following for a long time—as I’ve been a senator for about six years. It first started outside of this country in, I believe, it was the United Kingdom and then more and more states, and in other countries, are actually adopting it. Basically, what a regulatory sandbox is, it provides a space within government— sort of a public-private space for entrepreneurs to develop a new product or service under some degree of regulatory supervision, but without having potentially sort of excessive burden and penalties. So what I see it as, we have a lot of we have a lot of governmental entities that are responsible in this state for enforcing regulations that are created by policymakers. And I think it’s important that we have an entity in this state that is creating a safe place to actually help reduce some of the regulations we have in our state. And so that’s the ultimate goal of a regulatory sandbox.
Jim Vokal: And regulation can be such a politically charged word in a lot of people’s minds, so how do we…I go back to the limitations on telehealth as an example—how can we explain the regulatory sandbox to Nebraskans who may be skeptical about the need for regulatory reform, Senator?
Sen. Anna Wishart: I think that’s a great question. The first thing i would say is I think many Nebraskans have a very entrepreneurial spirit at heart and will quickly understand and get excited about this. I actually happen to represent what we call the Silicon Prairie of Nebraska, in the United States, in the downtown Lincoln area, where I have a ton of startup energy going on in an ecosystem there. What I would explain to the public, and I think a lot of people understand, is that when regulations are created—and a lot of them are very good and important for public health, public safety—when they’re created, it’s important to have periods of time where we’re re-looking at those, because a lot of times with technological advancement, for example, so you take telehealth, the innovations that are current occurring in the private sector were not contemplated when regulations were created years before that very technology existed. So it is always important as a state for us to have an entity that is really keeping an eye on “Are we making sure that our laws are contemporary to the needs of our people, and our business, and our economy?”
Jim Vokal: So, many other countries and states have already adopted a regulatory sandbox. You look at states like North Carolina, Arizona, Utah. How—what are your thoughts on LB1127, and how maybe a regulatory sandbox could help put out the welcoming mat for entrepreneurs and attracting talent here in Nebraska?
Sen. Anna Wishart: Well, as we’ve seen in in other states that have put in place some of these places for innovation—this sort of ecosystem within the government for innovation—you know, the world has not fallen. And, in fact, in a lot of those states where we’re seeing this, they have broader policies and growth in place in terms of innovation and small business growth. And that’s what I want to see in Nebraska, is us continue to be a state where we are fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem, because when you grow businesses from within the state is when you see real incredible economic vitality and competitiveness in a state, and that’s important to me.
I think the other thing that’s also important for business and climate and for just general people as well, is recognizing—and this is something I keep in my mind when I show up to work every day in the Capitol—is, you know, it’s…important for us to show up every day and create good policies, but it’s equally important for us to spend as much time as policymakers looking at what rules and regulations currently exist that we may need to roll back. And it will be good to have an entity that is helping us make sure we keep that as a priority as well.
Jim Vokal: And you especially down in Lincoln, I would assume, hear from so many younger professionals that want to have a state that’s most attractive for innovation and entrepreneurs. LB1127 should help create that landscape that those folks are looking for, wouldn’t you agree?
Sen. Anna Wishart: Oh, absolutely. And it is something that I am very aware of, in terms of being a Lincoln senator and representing a lot of younger people in the state. But it’s also something that every single member of our Legislature needs to be thinking about. The statistic that hit me about three years ago and has changed my prioritization of legislation I’m working on, is that by 2030 in Nebraska, we will have more people 65 and older in our state than 18 and younger. We are experiencing a massive outmigration of young people out of our state, and in a lot of rural communities, they’re already there in terms of their population trends. And what that means for the economy and for not having a workforce to fill those who are leaving for retirement, is incredibly detrimental to the state. And so we need to do everything possible to attract and retain young people, but also to support small business growth and entrepreneurship, and opportunities that are anchors for people living and building a family and building a career in our state.
Jim Vokal: I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. Okay, so I’m excited to see how this bill is going to progress. I know we have a hearing coming up here shortly. When we do big things in any state, but certainly Nebraska, it’s tough sometimes. So, what do you anticipate the biggest obstacle facing 1127 and a regulatory sandbox here in Nebraska?
Sen. Anna Wishart: That’s such a great question, and this is one of those issues that I really like working on, because it’s so new that sort of party politics doesn’t sort of get involved in it, because nobody has sort of defined where this type of legislation stands. And so, that’s actually exciting because it means an opportunity for a bipartisan effort to get this across the finish line. You know, in the past I’ve introduced other legislation. One that comes to mind is autonomous vehicle legislation. We overcame a filibuster on that bill and we created language that makes Nebraska the most free market and business-friendly state in the country for autonomous vehicles and for that type of technological innovation. And I’m hoping that while we may have some opposition, that we’ll actually see some success with this and it will be on a bipartisan approach. With the autonomous vehicle legislation, it was myself and another young senator from a different political party. The two of us combined our efforts to get that legislation across the finish line. And there were some that were concerned just because it’s such a new idea, but we were able to convince enough senators to stick with us that we got that across the finish line, and the governor ended up getting an award. And it’s really put us on the map, and we became a model for other states in terms of an approach for this type of technological advancement. And I can see that same pathway for regulatory sandboxes. It’s a steeper learning curve, but once I can get enough senators across, you know, different political spectrum on board, I think we have a path to victory.
Jim Vokal: I hope you’re correct and you certainly have our support. So, a final question—I remember back in 2018, when the Legislature was debating the end of the state license for horse massage practitioners, and you spoke in favor of the bill as an equestrian who actually knew people that were struggling to start a small business taking care of horses because of the law. And back then a lot of people were dismissive of the bill and didn’t appreciate what it was trying to accomplish, so on a personal note, I want to thank you for your support. But since then, the state has made tremendous progress in assessing many other kinds of laws that govern getting a job or starting a business. Can you share a bit about why advancing economic freedom, technology, and entrepreneurship has been important parts of your legislative work?
Sen. Anna Wishart: Well, first of all, yes, that was a great bill. And it has been successful, and like you said, you know, that bill started a movement towards looking at where do we have burdensome regulations that are actually getting in the way of economic growth, and are not a factor in terms of public health or safety. You know, I think like I said earlier it’s very important for senators when we walk in the doors of the Capitol for work every morning that we are not only looking at what new laws we’re advancing that will help Nebraskans, but we are also equally spending our time looking at what are some of the rules, and regulations, and laws in the books that are getting in the way of Nebraskans, our economic growth, our public safety, our public health, and in our vitality. And having that mindset of working just as hard on ensuring freedoms in areas where freedoms really need to be expanded is very important. And I think having an institution within our government whose job is to look in a safe way at how we start to continue doing that is going to be really important for our state moving forward.
Jim Vokal: Senator Wishart, I am appreciative of you sponsoring this priority for Platte. We need more senators, quite frankly, like you down in the Legislature that are promoting entrepreneurship and the same mentality and approach that you have. So, I thank you for that and I thank you for joining us on Nebraskanomics and leading the charge on LB1127.
Sen. Anna Wishart: Thank you for having me.