Voices of The Bay

Safety First

From marijuana to mobile homes, Director of Business Regulation Liz Tanner oversees it all


On the surface, the position of Director of Business Regulation for the State of Rhode Island sounds a bit dry, but Liz Tanner will tell you otherwise. Appointed in November 2017, her day can range from issues relating to the bomb squad to marijuana to mobile homes. Overseeing a department of 151 employees between five locations, the DBR is charged with a wide range of licensing and permitting for 10 industries across the state. Fueled by four personal principles, Liz is committed to improving the process for doing business in the state; one example is being implemented in July, the State Mobile Food Establishment Registration passed by the General Assembly last June.

A Bristol resident since 1997, Liz received her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from University of Rhode Island and a law degree from Western New England School of Law. For 10 years, Liz hung her Tanner Law LTD shingle before joining the RI Commerce Corporation in 2015, where she most recently served as Executive Vice President of Client Services.

Regulations are almost always put in place trying to prevent someone from injury. A big part of my job is listening to complaints. One example was the permitting process for food trucks across the state. In the East Bay, if you want to operate a food truck, you had to physically go to each town and fill out different forms. We had two focus groups with people from fire, several cities, clerks’ associations, food and hospitality industry, and food truck owners. In June, the State Mobile Food Establishment Registration Act, which streamlines the process, passed. It allows food truck owners to have centralized licensing. We felt this bill took care of the administrative paperwork behind-the-scenes, but still allows the municipalities to have local control. The focus groups were key.

I’m also the state’s Boxing Commissioner, overseeing boxing and mixed martial arts. We had a boxer with a medical condition not disclosed to us. We had to work with him and his doctors to find a way that would be safe for everyone. I’m also the state’s assayer, also known as state’s liquor taster. If someone felt liquor had been watered- down, I would have to evaluate it. Unfortunately, I’ve not had the opportunity to do that.

I lead DBR with four guiding principles. Ethics and integrity, because it’s very important to me that we do the right thing. If we don’t do the right thing, we’re going to figure out how we can. Customer service, which I liken to calling the doctor. When the doctor doesn’t answer the phone, you want someone to call you back. Employee engagement and empowerment, so I encourage training and conversation for professional growth. Continuous improvement, because we are always trying to make things better.