Beach Chamber Goes to Capital

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Group Lobbies for SWFL

Three representatives of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce joined roughly 60 other members of the Southwest Florida Alliance of Chambers at “Southwest Florida Days” at the State Capital in Tallahassee from Sunday, January 26, through Tuesday, January 28. Traveling on behalf of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber were its Executive Director, Jacki Liszak; Fort Myers Beach Fire Department Chief Matthew Love; and FMB Chamber Ambassador Debbie Voorhees, who represented as well the Friends of Lovers Key State Park. In addition to the FMB Chamber, the Southwest Florida Alliance of Chambers include the Bonita Springs Area Chamber, Cape Coral Chamber, Chamber of Southwest Florida, Greater Fort Myers Chamber, Greater Naples Chamber and the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber.

“The seven Chambers attended ‘Southwest Florida Days’ under the Southwest Florida Alliance of Chambers umbrella to increase the power of our presence,” said Jacki. “In addition to our group, others from Southwest Florida who were already in Tallahassee for other reasons joined us, like Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) President Dr. Mike Martin, who was there with several students for FGCU Day, and Sanibel-Captiva Chamber President John Lai, who stayed from the previous week from lobbying for continued funding to maintain the ‘Visit Florida’ program. By all of us joining forces in Tallahassee to promote our region, we ended up representing roughly 5,000 Southwest Florida businesses and well over 300,000 voters, with that number growing every day.”

Water Quality #1

Jacki stated that while the Southwest Florida contingent discussed several issues with state leaders, “there is no question that water quality for us all was the #1 thing! Virtually everyone we spoke with said that Governor Ron DeSantis made it very clear that water quality is the state priority and everyone else is essentially following that directive and is in lockstep together, and we heard that over and over again, including from the deputy to Noah Valenstein, who is the Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The ‘Water Quality Improvements’ legislation is now in front of the Florida Senate under Bill 712 and the Florida House under Bill 1343 and every representative we spoke with expressed their support. This is a significant change from just two years ago, when not only was the Southwest Florida delegation not fully committed to water quality, but it was practically a non-issue to elected officials from the northern part of the State.”

A major issue to almost everyone in the Southwest Florida contingent, Jacki added, “was to convince our representatives to support refunding the ‘Visit Florida’ program that is to expire July 1. The analogy we used is that Coca-Cola is #1 in the soft drink market, as Florida is in the vacation market, yet they don’t rest on their laurels and stop advertising, but put more funds than ever into marketing to stay #1. While visitors will always come to Florida and the loss of Visit Florida will not affect Fort Myers Beach in the short term, there are a lot of beaches all over America, so vacationers have many other choices, so if we do not keep promoting our state as a destination, we will no longer be competitive and will lose a portion of the vacation market, so there will most definitely be a long-term impact, meaning that it is vital to maintain Visit Florida!”

In addition to water quality and Visit Florida, Jacki reported, “other major points of discussion included affordable workforce housing, Tort Reform, flood insurance and Short Term Rental Ordinances. Jennifer Hecker, the Executive Director of the Coastal & Heartland National Estuary Partnership, made an impassioned appeal for state support to persuade the Federal Government to continue funding for estuary programs. A major priority for Chief Love was follow-up legislation to the Occupational Cancer Law to combat firefighter cancer.”

The Southwest Florida group did not have the opportunity to personally talk with Governor DeSantis, as they did last year, “but we did speak to his Chief of Staff, Shane Strum, who was quite impressive and spent a great deal of time with us, in what was very much a two-way conversation. He explained to us the Governor’s legislative priorities and wanted to hear our thoughts and opinions.”

Chamber-goes-to-the-Capitol
Over 60 people from the Southwest Florida Alliance of Chambers travelled to Tallahassee to discuss local issues with our elected officials. Photos provided.

Among all the business, there was a little time for fun, Jacki stated. “We enjoyed a wonderful tour of the Governor’s Mansion, where a really sweet young man led our group. The thing that struck me is that there are photographs of the Governor and his family all over, and of course the First Lady is pregnant with their third child. We learned that it has been more than a half-century since the First Family had young children in the Mansion, and that seems to excite the entire staff. As for me, I had the honor, as did several others, to sit at the Governor’s desk! We toured as well the original Capital that is now a museum and it is beautiful!”

Energizing & Fascinating

Jacki believes that the most positive aspect of the Southwest Florida Chambers trip to Tallahassee “is that we reinforced that we remain solidly in lockstep on the importance of water quality and that we will continue to keep up the pressure in that regard, and our representatives heard that loud-&-clear. We want scientific-based improvements and solutions to repair our water quality concerns and we will not let up until the state achieves that for us. We did not focus on just one aspect of the clean water movement, but stressed that the answers must include stormwater, septic tanks, Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, runoff, and etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, because water quality problems do not come from just one or two issues but all of these and more. I get the sense, however, that the entire State Legislature no longer views this as just a Southwest Florida dilemma, but that northern Florida representatives get it as well, because water is an issue for rivers and lakes and springs, as all water is ultimately interconnected.”

She describes a legislative visit to Tallahassee as “energizing! You get to see firsthand how the process works and it is fascinating. The lobbyists are running all around and you witness committee meetings and there are all kinds of other citizens groups with people cramming the hallways and elevators, talking to their public officials, so the energy is palpable, and until you see it with your own eyes, it is hard to describe it to anyone else, because when you experience it for yourself and you see how the system works – the political process comes to life! It is not a perfect system, but it is really cool to see it in action. If you have an interest to do this yourself, the best way so that it is not so intimidating is to join us on our trip to Tallahassee next year for ‘Southwest Florida Days,’ so contact us at the FMB Chamber. We had an exciting trip and the Southwest Florida Alliance of Chambers did a great job in putting it all together, so it was a pleasure to represent our region and Fort Myers Beach community.”