Proactively Shaping Policy
More than ever, the fire-sprinkler community needs to be proactive in helping political candidates work toward commonsense solutions in the areas of our workforce, workers’ compensation, tax, regulation, healthcare, economic development, and labor. The American Fire Sprinkler Association’s Florida Chapter (AFSA-FL) has been successful in this process, due to the hard work of our legislative committee—Ron Cox, Suzanne Saults, and Chris Johnson—in partnership with our lobbying firm, RSA Consulting Group, LLC. The RSA team came on board with our chapter in January 2020, and their leadership raised the level of our renown and engagement in the political process and with elected officials.
Attend the Legislative Planning Conference
Our process hinges on our attendance at the annual two-day Legislative Planning Conference. This year, from July 30–31, AFSA-FL members met in St. Augustine, Florida, to lay out the association’s legislative agenda for 2021. Although adjustments had to be made for COVID, making things look a little different this year, we were able to meet in person.
Ron Pierce and Edward Briggs, of RSA Consulting Group, kept the group on track while they debated the pros, cons, and exact wording of the Florida Chapter’s top three legislative priorities for the 2021 session. Ron Cox, chair of the AFSA-FL legislative committee, encouraged everyone to voice their opinions. In between discussions and breakout groups, Representative Jason Fischer, Senator Dennis Baxley, and Representative Bobby Payne addressed the room.
Everything accomplished during the planning conference helped us develop these ideas into comprehensive and robust reform efforts on behalf of the fire sprinkler industry. Our lobby team will now take steps to draft bills, create talking points, and collect member anecdotes about the importance of the reforms.
Step One: Develop an Agenda
During the Legislative Planning Conference, the legislative committee and chapter members develop the chapter’s legislative agenda for the following year. This year, RSA Consulting Group’s Ron Pierce and Edward Briggs had a new suggestion: that we build relationships on the front end, meaning, meet with individuals running for office and start building a relationship before they are elected.
Step Two: Interview Political Candidates
Our chapter has always proactively met with lawmakers to educate them about our industry issues, so it wasn’t a stretch for us to schedule interviews with hopefuls throughout the state. RSA went to work finding willing candidates, and the legislative committee recruited chapter members to interview them. Piper Fire Protection hosted the Tampa Bay interviews, Naples Fire Protection, Inc. hosted the South Florida interviews, and Cox Fire Protection hosted the North Florida interviews. Logan Hoggarth, of Victaulic, was the hero who kept the group fed and happy.
Members interviewed more than 30 candidates, all vying for election to the Florida State Legislature. Each question was asked genuinely, in hopes of building the foundation of a relationship to be strengthened if the candidate was elected.
“Interviewing legislative candidates throughout the state has been a great opportunity to build relationships with future decision makers and educate them about the importance of the fire sprinkler industry,” said Suzanne Saults, chair of AFSA-FL. “We look forward to continued relationship development in the years to come.”
Step Three: Endorse Candidates
While scheduling candidate interviews, the legislative committee and board of directors formed a chapter Political Committee (PC). The AFSA-FL PC provides an avenue to make a meaningful impact on the legislative process, and, by collectively mobilizing efforts and engagement, AFSA-FL PC creates synergy. We are stronger together, and our numbers allow us to lead the conversation on Florida’s public policy matters. PC funds allowed our chapter to endorse 14 of the candidates we interviewed and to contribute financially to their campaigns.
Step Four: Walk the Halls of the Capitol
During every legislative session, the Florida Chapter meets in Tallahassee, giving members an opportunity to see the legislative process in action and meet our elected officials, who tell us they want to hear from us, since otherwise they don’t know how policy affects our industry. Participation in this event is a catalyst that gets more AFSA-FL members involved in politics.
RSA Consulting Group secured a conference room in the Capitol and filled the day with back-to-back meetings with senators and representatives from our members’ districts. Up first were guests from the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Director Julius Halas, Chief Casia Sinco, and the CFO’s Legislative Affairs team discussed our partnership and the importance of reforming fire sprinkler code and legislation with one voice.
We met with legislators to discuss the Priority Bills created during the July Legislative Planning Conference and asked for support to get them passed. Our time together gave us an opportunity to build credibility and become that trusted industry resource. As each new senator and representative met with our group, members became more comfortable telling their personal stories of how the Florida Chapter’s bills have affected their companies, and how passing the bills would benefit the industry as a whole.
Step Five: Success!
Our chapter’s policy success during the 2020 legislative session—our help in passing priority bills that lower retainage from 10 percent to 5 percent, increase continuing contracts from $2 million to $4 million, and keep the retrofit high-rise bill active—creates excitement as we look toward 2021. Our partnering with RSA Consulting Group, interviewing political candidates, developing a chapter Political Committee, and spending two days planning our chapter’s legislative priorities put the AFSA-FL Chapter in the position to encourage passage of legislation that will positively affect the fire sprinkler industry.
These successes would not be possible without the dedication and leadership of our executive committee, board, legislative committee, and lobbying firm. Our accomplishments have created a stronger camaraderie within our chapter, more participation, and a better fire sprinkler industry.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Cox is the executive director of the AFSA Florida Chapter. For more information about the chapter or its legislative activities, email Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org.