November 14, 2019
The words of Senator Linda Stewart, and the boots of fellow Senator Jose Javier Rodriquez: These are what lingered in my mind as I left the State Capitol on Wednesday following the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) Fly-In.
Senator Stewart's ringing words of frustration weren't new, but stung just the same: “Ag is very influential in this building. The marine industry is large enough; you should have more lobbyist pressure here instead of these infrequent visits. You need more lobbyists.” Ouch.
As for Sen. Rodriquez's shin-high water boots, they told an equally strong message to all those meeting with him. On the foot of each boot were the words #ActonClimateFL.
A group of twenty representatives from varied marine businesses from around Florida met with NMMA staff, lobbyists and state employees on Wednesday for a day of education and arm twisting.
The morning began with state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) staff representing the Boating and Waterways Section explaining much of what they do and plan to do in the upcoming budget year. The takeaway after a few questions regarding their ten- to thirteen-million-dollar deficit was simple: They need more money.
The next presentation to our group was from Julie Espy, Program Administrator with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Espy was happy to tell us about Governor DeSantis' $625 million recurring funds for Everglades restoration and protection of water resources. But what it lacked, I noted, was specific regulations and enforcement; our state legislators could provide this.
My own talking points and mission were clear: more money for the FWC for the boating programs and regulations and enforcement to go with Everglades restoration efforts. Our group of twenty was split into three groups and we headed off for the Capitol.
Short takeaways from the afternoon in the Capitol:
- The aforementioned not-so-subtle words of Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando: Marine and fishing industries need more representation in Tallahassee. Big Sugar wins this fight hands down with a 60-to-2 unfair advantage. American Sportfishing Association (ASA) and Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) each have one full-time policy person in the State Capitol. Not enough.
- Sen. Jose Javier Rodriquez, Miami, is someone who, judging by his footwear, should be taken seriously. Suit pants tucked into rubber boots clearly gets his point across that sea level rise in his district is real, and he plans on filling SB 78 again which requires projects funded by taxpayer dollars to be accompanied by sea level rise impact study. Rodriquez has also been a very strong leader on Everglades restoration.
- House Representative Anna Eskamani, Orlando: We need more legislators like her. Here's what she told me when I introduced myself: “I haven't taken any Big Sugar money.” Wow.
- The group of allied marine business leaders attending the NMMA Fly-In wasn't pushing any specific legislation, but took the opportunity to meet with state legislators to reinforce the importance of the $23.3 billion dollar boating industry in Florida, reflecting 92,211 jobs and 6,100 businesses.
- Clearly it makes sense to fund the FWC appropriately and give enforcement teeth to legislation for Everglades restoration. It makes dollars and sense.