The Role of Government Relations
Since much of the daily operations at Florida SouthWestern State College are governed by state statute and rule, the primary focus is with state legislators, state agencies and the Office of the Governor. We have worked to build the professional relationships which enable a more frequent and detailed level of information being supplied to our legislators and to become a trusted source when they have questions related to higher education issues.
Beginning in the fall of each year and into the early spring, travel to Tallahassee begins during the designated committee weeks to gather information on the upcoming legislative session and to brief our legislators on the priorities of Florida SouthWestern State College and the Florida College System. Once the 60-day legislative session begins in early March, the office temporarily relocates to Tallahassee fulltime. All together, the lobbying efforts total 3.5 to 4 months of time in Tallahassee alone.
During the legislative session, our focus is completely on policy and budget issues affecting college operations. There were approximately 1,000 bills filed in the House and the Senate during the 2014 session related to any number of policy areas and any one of them could affect what we do. Seemingly unrelated subjects such as transportation, land use or gun control could easily be linked to some aspect of college operations. Each of them had to receive at least a review to gauge the impact on the college. It is the responsibility of this office to support those issues that will provide positive benefits to our students, faculty and staff, or the institution as a whole. We also advocate against those issues that negatively affect the students and college operations, ensuring they are defeated or amended to correct that negative impact. To accomplish this, we routinely meet with our Southwest Florida delegation or their staff to make sure the position of Florida SouthWestern State College is heard. While the state budget and appropriations are vital to the operations of the college, the vast majority of time spent lobbying is consumed by advocacy on policy issues such as system governance, program offerings and educating legislators on issues affecting the Florida College System. Quite often, new issues will be brought up late in session and we have to be ready to respond on a moment’s notice. FSW’s constant presence in Tallahassee along with the other college system lobbyists has helped to ensure our college and the Florida College System is well represented.
During the interim between legislative session and committee weeks, we meet with other elected officials in Southwest Florida or travel to meet with our Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. to grow those relationships. We also host numerous tours of our campuses for community leaders, elected officials and their staff, assist their offices with constituent concerns and begin planning for the next year’s session.