This guest post was written by Jason Roth, Director of Public Policy at the United Way of Northeast Florida.
The United Way and several other area non-profits collaborate each year to provide an annual advocacy training to prepare child-serving agencies in Northeast Florida for the upcoming state legislative session.
Every year, the Florida legislature convenes for a 60-day session to amend and add to the laws that govern our state. And while most folks don’t think twice about this annual activity, this is where a majority of laws that govern our day-to-day lives are made. From big issues of how to run our public schools or deliver low-income healthcare programs for kids, to smaller ones that govern what size beer containers can be filled by local breweries, the actions of our lawmakers in Tallahassee have a profound effect on the everyday lives of Floridians.
I serve as Director of Public Policy for the United Way of Northeast Florida, and to paraphrase what our former organization president, Connie Hodges, told me when I started — charities and non-profits like ours do incredible work raising tens of millions of dollars a year to help our community. But the state of Florida passes a $70+ billion budget annually and it’s imperative to do what we can to bring more of that spending in line with our mission and the will of our donors.
Constitutionally, the only thing the Florida Legislature is obligated to pass every year is a state budget, which last year was signed by Governor Rick Scott and included $78.2 billion in spending. This spending plan reflects the collective priorities of our state as directed by our state Senators and Representatives. While most of our elected leaders do an good job of representing their constituents, the one thing they can’t do is read their minds.
Speaking up on behalf of a cause you believe in, or a constituency you represent, CAN make a difference. Having walked the halls of the Florida Capitol for over decade, I can tell you numerous stories about individuals or groups that were dedicated to making a change and fought hard to make it happen. And with many organizations looking to engage volunteers advocates, participating in your democracy has never been easier.
Every year, many non-profits make the effort to train volunteer advocates, giving them the skills to effectively communicate to policy makers. United Way recently partnered with the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, Jacksonville Kids Coalition, Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Public Education Fund to put on a half-day Advocacy Training where about 80 nonprofit volunteers and staff had the opportunity to pose questions to experts and legislators. They also participated in round table discussions designed to brief them on the relevant issues and practice putting their knowledge and skills to use.
The 2016 legislative session begins on January 12th and continues for 60 days. You can learn more about United Ways public policy program here.