Members Address Fire- and Life-Safety Issues
The Florida Chapter of the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) held its inaugural Legislative Planning Day Thursday, August 2, 2018, ending in what was hailed by many in Florida as “the most productive day for our industry.”
The day began with several guest speakers, including a candidate for an open seat in the Florida House of Representatives and a former Representative running for the Florida Senate, before beginning the day’s briefing. Florida’s statewide elected Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis gave the keynote address during lunch, after which the planning session resumed. Many commented that it was great to see elected officials and candidates for elected office from both political parties visit and address the group which was a welcome addition to the day.
Legislative Chair Ron Cox, Cox Fire Protection, Inc., Tampa, Florida, kicked off the general session by sharing the purpose of the day as ultimately for all members to have a voice in guiding our legislative agenda. Cox explained the day’s agenda and the goal of identifying our industry’s top three legislative issues for 2019. Next, Lobbyist William Stander went over, in detail, the 40-page reference presentation. This included last year’s legislative wrap-up report and the most recent legislation on notable bills, including the high-rise retrofit bill, among many other items.
Russ Leavitt, CEO of Telgian Corporation and board member of the Florida Chapter, took control and dove into the meat of the day – the process. Members counted off and were redirected into smaller workgroups to allow for fresh ideas and exchanges between people who may not have met otherwise. Regrouping also prevented the legislative committee from sitting together. Leavitt lead the group to identify the wide range of issues important to them as individual contractors, while Chairman Chris Johnson, Piper Fire Protection, Clearwater, Florida, wrote them on giant sticky notes that were plastered across the room, so they remained visible to everyone. Thus began the most intensive part of the day as the groups debated the merits of each and put their heads together to arrive at their top five issues from the almost 20 that adorned the walls.
After lunch, Leavitt moderated the refreshed minds to dwindle the top five issues that received the most overall votes down to three, thus arriving at the expectation of the day. Not surprisingly, Florida’s current high-rise retrofit law that is under fire by condominium managers made the top of the list.
Planning the Planning
A successful day such as this does not just happen; it takes months of planning – five to be exact. Numerous discussions ensued to uncover the vision of the legislative chair coupled with the logistics from the lobbyist’s perspective and the realization of the day by the executive director.
Venue is as important as content and finding just the right one that allowed for interaction in a relaxed, bright environment and movement from the workspace to the dining space were considered. Viewing Daytona’s beach while reading the sticky notes made people feel like they were outside, not in a classroom. Care was taken to ensure the day remained fun, focused, and stress-free with several longer breaks that left no one feeling overworked or hungry – good food equals a good mood!
Everyone who had an integral role was given a minute-by-minute breakdown of the day so the conversation flowed flawlessly. Such a detailed schedule took hours of conversation, numerous phone calls and many days to finalize but is a step that should never be overlooked. No project manages itself and the most important part of any event is constant project management.
And sponsors. Our associate members saw quickly the importance of the day and acted in kind. We would be remiss if we didn’t take this opportunity to recognize Closson Insurance, Core & Main, Ferguson, Johnson Controls, and Viking for adding to the conversations and providing for a great breakfast and lunch!
The legislative committee meeting the following day was immediately productive as the process removed the burden of discovery from the committee, lightening the load and proving once again that many hands make quick work. The experts who know the political process then took the work of the day and determined the direction of the top three issues. Care was also taken to identify “back-pocket” items on hand if the right legislative opportunity came along.
At the end of the day, there is nothing more important to you than for your lobbyist to know your top issues. A carefully planned and executed legislative planning day will generate a greater return on that investment, since having more than three priorities equates to not having priorities at all.
This day came about as a way to include Florida Chapter members, to hear their voices and act on their concerns. It afforded a wider range of opinions, suggestions, and expertise. Additionally, this day vastly expanded the buy-in from the general membership – everyone who participated was heard and felt their value, both as hard-working contractors and members of an association. They now have a vested interest in the outcome which ultimately leads to a stronger legislative program and association. There is renewed interest in contacting legislators, attending board meetings, serving on committees, and joining the Florida board.
Present and future company leaders are encouraged to attend future Legislative Planning Days and take an active role in the process of bringing forth positive legislation for the fire sprinkler industry. These leaders can make great strides in life safety while leaving the guests with a lasting impression of who we are so that when they are faced with fire sprinkler and life safety issues in Tallahassee, they will recall the day. Your voice and presence matter.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
CarolynAnn Mohr is executive director and William Stander is lobbyist for the AFSA Florida Chapter. For more information about the chapter or its legislative activities, contact Mohr via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.