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Islands chamber begins 2020 advocacy efforts

By Staff | Jan 15, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Chamber members traveled together to Tallahassee in 2019.

With the new year, the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce kicked off efforts to meet the legislative priorities set last year by the board of directors to advocate on behalf of its members.

Chamber President John Lai already took a step toward water quality advocacy – one of the board’s two-pronged objectives – by attending the Everglades Coalition Conference on Jan. 9-13 on Captiva. A forum for discussing restoration progress in the Florida Everglades, the programming focused on the role the Everglades plays in ensuring clean water for Southwest Florida shorelines.

Later this month, chamber representatives will travel to Tallahassee to again support water quality, along with part two of its legislative priorities, namely funding for and stabilization of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion agency. On Jan. 21, for Tourism Day in the state Capitol, the push will be to support Visit Florida, which is set to dissolve in June if not re-funded. Last year, the Legislature decreased the agency’s funding by 34 percent, from $75 million to $50 million, for fiscal 2019-2020.

“We will urge legislators to increase the appropriations back to full funding for the upcoming fiscal year, with hopes to effect long-term reauthorization of Visit Florida following that,” Lai said. “This year’s cut meant the loss of one-thirds of the agency’s staff, which really hurt. Visit Florida is crucial for promoting tourism worldwide and asserting a positive state image when national media misrepresents us.”

On Jan. 30, over 35 Southwest Florida Alliance of Chambers members and staff will attend Southwest Florida Day in the Legislature. The islands chamber is a founding member of the alliance, which coalesced seven local chambers in the wake of 2018’s algae catastrophe. Chamber representatives will meet with legislators and testify in the House and Senate on various issues, including improved water quality through strengthened standards for storm-water and agricultural runoff, advanced wastewater treatment, septic tank requirements, and funding for reservoirs and structures around Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.

“Our objective is to send clean water south and west as quickly as possible,” Lai, who serves on the Water Resource Accountability and Collaboration Committee for the South Florida Water Management District, said. “The climate for strong support is good right now at the federal and state executive levels, thanks to our efforts last year, and we mean to reinforce that sentiment.”

Other issues to receive support in Tallahassee include increased funding for Southwest Florida transportation studies and improvements, and policy development for affordable workforce housing.

“The chamber last year began the Southwest Florida Day bus trip to Tallahassee, and it was highly successful,” Lai said. “This year we hope to build on that momentum in more ways that benefit our membership and the region as a whole.”

Lai also will represent the islands and Southwest Florida in Tallahassee in February for Everglades Coalition Action Day and in March during appropriations legislation.