As winter weather exits Florida, and with spring on the horizon, another yearly season (not subject to an equinox) has descended upon the state: It’s legislative priorities season. Those who are prepared stand a better chance of basking in the warm glow of cooperative lawmakers. Those who aren’t may get left out in the cold.
Do a quick Google search for the groups that have announced what they’d like the Florida Legislature to accomplish this session. It’s a long list. Point is: organizations know they need to lobby the lawmakers. They put a premium on getting those messages out and they don’t hide their intent.
A couple weeks ago, Florida Retail Federation President Rick McAllister gathered the media to announce his group was behind a plan from Governor Rick Scott to create several sales tax holidays.
When business leaders talk, lawmakers tend to be sympathetic. Still, there’s a carefully choreographed dance groups must perform. Manufacturers Association of Florida Executive Director Nancy Stephens says her team often goes right to the top.
“We take our proposals to the governor’s office and say ‘This is what manufacturers see would move the business climate for them forward in the State of Florida,.’" she says. "And that’s prior to the governor putting proposals together, so they have that to consider.”
Still, Stephens’ group convened its members in Tallahassee and invited some heavy hitters to listen to their pitch. Enterprise Florida CEO Gray Swoope took to the podium in a conference room full of manufacturers to explain how his group planned to address their concerns. Stephens says even with access to the governor and some high-profile friends like Swoope, her industry has had to make gradual, stair-step improvements to its profile with lawmakers.
“Twenty years ago, we say no one even know what the “M” word was – “M” word being manufacturing. But the attitude, we struggled 20 years ago and now people have finally realized that manufacturing is a very important part of the economic future for Florida,” Stephens says.
And now think about how many groups want to increase their profile the same way.
The media also play an important role in how legislative priorities are received and disseminated. At the end of January, the Florida League of Cities had hoped to hold a press conference announcing its goals. The group has, for weeks, had them on its website, but spokeswoman Erika Branchcomb says when it became clear some media organizations wouldn’t make it to the event, it was postponed until a time when more cameras and microphones can be present.
Branchcomb says the League needs the media to help make complex positions easier to understand – not to explain them to the public, but to rally citizens to take up the League’s causes. But that takes some judicious explaining.
“You don’t want to give so much information that people’s eyes start to glaze over," she says. "A lot of these issues are very complex and can get very much into the weeds where people are just ‘Okay, I don’t know what you’re talking about any more’ and so they stop paying attention.”
The people whose attention matters the most are the state’s elected leaders. But they’ve got to balance hundreds of priorities from dozens of groups.