The first panel I attended at SXSW interactive was a discussion about ‘why public policy should matter to startups.’ The panel was a discussion between i2Coalition honoree Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Greg Ferenstein from TechCrunch.
The discussion led off with Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) Filibuster in which Sen. Moran participated. Sen. Moran focused his remarks on issues related to due process and the fact that the process highlighted an issue that would not have otherwise received attention. What was interesting to me about his comments was the fact that this position is directly analogous to the position he took on SOPA / PIPA: his position may have initially been controversial, but not only drew attention to the issue, but also highlighted fundamental problems with fairness, due process and constitutional issues.
Greg asked a question that the i2Coalition is working hard on: can the technology industry move beyond trying to stop legislation to actually participating in the process. Sen. Moran talked about how social media strongly helps influence input into Washington, and that active participation in the legislative process is the key to ensuring a positive outcome. But the most important method is a personal relationship.
The i2Coalition has been extremely successful in this regard: our education day on Capitol Hill was well-attended by Congressional staff members and we met with nearly 20 member’s offices separately. Our voice helps successful businesses amplify their voices, and participate in the legislative process when they are not able to do so in person. Moreover, we have worked hard to make opportunities available to members in their home states, arranging in district meetings with elected officials and their staffs in Texas, Utah, New Jersey, California, and, of course, Kansas.
Sen. Moran reiterated this opposition to the Senate version of CISPA. He described it as having a heavy hand that may inhibit the ability of companies to innovate. This is something the i2Coalition supports. While it is possible for cybersecurity legislation to be done right, past bills have not done so. The i2Coalition supports legislation that allows information sharing among companies and between the government down to the private sector. However, compelling this sharing is very problematic.
The rest of the talk focused on more traditional tech issues. One of the issues championed by Sen. Moran is the Start-up Act. The primary piece of which is a visa provision. There is frustration that this piece of legislation is held up by the larger debate on comprehensive immigration reform. Sen. Moran is frustrated that this hold up causes the US to lag behind other countries who have already updated their immigration policies and are taking talent from US startups. Immigration reform is an important component of a successful and vibrant US economy. The i2Coalition supports Sen. Moran’s efforts on immigration and is working with Engine Advocacy to provide support for this effort.
One of the best things about SXSW is the ability to interact with people directly. This session was no different. While Sen. Moran talked about a number of issues that are important to the i2coalition, the amount of interaction between the Senator and the audience and among the audience revealed a broad agreement on issues that are important to our members: thoughtful analysis from elected officials, a respect for what we’ve accomplished as an industry, and support for the multistakeholder process in which tech industries have an equal voice in Washington with traditional industries.