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By Phil Stalnaker
Years as a foster parent have taught me how vital advocacy is in our society. Whether it is fighting for the safety and security of children in court, or training birth parents how to properly care for children, advocacy is the key word in all we do as a foster family. The children that come through the “system” desperately need a whole team of people that will fight and sacrifice (ADVOCATE) for their needs.
Child advocacy is often an obvious circumstance. The foster care system is one vehicle to advocate for children, but there are many others. And children aren’t the only ones who need advocates. The health system uses advocates to fight for the well-being of sick patients. There are advocates for the malnourished, the mistreated, and the ones who didn’t get a fair shake at life, among many others. There are even advocates for you!
Advocating in Tallahassee
The Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce recently traveled to Tallahassee to take part in an event called the SWFL Days. In the center of Florida’s governmental system, we teamed up with other chambers in our local area and were able to meet with multiple leaders, both elected and appointed, so that we could make the case for things that are important to our local business community.
We were able to meet with elected officials such as Kathleen Passidomo, Spencer Roach (I was particularly encouraged to hear about his new role as a foster parent) and Heather Fitzenhagen; individuals whose job it is to fight for us in the legislative arena. They are writing and supporting bills that are intended to have our best interest at heart – yet how do they know unless they hear from us? Which is exactly what we were doing in Tallahassee; grabbing the ear of anyone who would listen and share with them our priorities for the best for southwest Florida. We were encouraged that they listened and supported our priorities (our priorities can be viewed in detail here) and even offered to meet with us more regularly (thank you, Representative Roach!) so that we stay on their radar as opportunities open for them to exert their influence.
Though we discussed a number of different priorities, such as why we believe that Visit Florida should be fully funded, why a mandatory minimum wage is hurtful to those whom it means to help, that we support increased funding and heightened priority for Southwest Florida transportation projects, and policies that increase attainable housing opportunities for our community members. Those (and some other issues) were discussed, but as it is often the topic of conversation at many area dinners, the issue of water quality was the topic most of our conversations landed on and hit home.
Advocating for Water Quality
We discussed and shared our support for Senate Bill SB712 – the Clean Waterways Act by Senator Debbie Mayfield and the House companion bill HB1343 by Representative Payne. Though there are differences (the senate bill is considered more protective), they are close and now as amended have identical provisions regarding agriculture inspections and record collection. I encourage you to learn more about these proposed bills (the Senate bill can be followed here).
We spoke directly with the Director of Legislative Affairs of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection about these very things and urged them to continue looking at new developments and consistent reinvestment into our infrastructures. We learned about their focus on securing $625 million for water quality for the 2nd year as well as their focus on SB712, specifically on increasing accountability measures and even raising the penalties. They have also decreased the average turnaround time for DEP permits.
Spending this time in Tallahassee allowed us to advocate for consistent sustained funding levels to accomplish the Everglades Agricultural Area projects and objective of sending clean water South as quickly as possible. For updating and strengthening stormwater standards for urban landscapes (statewide stormwater rule) and agricultural runoff. For advanced wastewater treatment to reduce nutrients in reuse/reclaimed irrigation water. For you!
You Can Be an Advocate
The Fort Myers Chamber is advocating for our member businesses in many ways: with elected officials and government leaders, by educating the public on important information that effects their companies, and by strategizing with local leaders on growing Fort Myers into the best metropolis in which to live, work, and play! You can join us in these efforts by letting us hear from you about issues you care about. You can also join us in our work. Contact the chamber office if interested in being a part of the Member Advocacy Committee.
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