Introduction

The Florida Natural Gas Association (FNGA) is pleased to present this Public Policy Advocacy Guide as a handy reference for you, our colleagues and partners, to utilize in understanding the role of advocacy and its impact on the legislative and regulatory processes in Florida.

As we move ahead, we must be certain that the perception of our association, and all of us who represent it, is that we are the subject-matter experts for natural gas industry issues. We must understand the value that our industry brings to the communities in which we live, the customers that we serve and to the general public that relies on the safe delivery of natural gas. In addition, we need to be fully prepared to meet the challenges of an ever-growing energy consuming state through public policy advocacy.

Advocacy is a key tool in the increasingly diverse and divisive energy policy debates that occur at the legislature and regulatory agencies; the outcome of which creates winners and losers. Advocacy, along with support from our customers, the general public and other allies, helps to assure that policy-makers will adopt, implement, and maintain important environmental, business regulatory, and energy policies.

As the pre-eminent association of Florida’s natural gas industry, the FNGA must sustain a visible and vocal presence at all levels of government to ensure that our industry’s interests are protected. Legislative and regulatory issues vary widely among our membership, please be aware that some issues may impact you more than others.

The FNGA remains committed to natural gas advocacy and the development of resources to assist your efforts. This guide is one component of a larger initiative to expand and enhance our role in advocacy, provide our membership and coalitions with the resources needed to be effective advocates, and strengthen our collective efforts to benefit Florida’s energy portfolio. We urge you to take advantage of the information provided to become more knowledgeable about advocacy and to utilize this guide in your advocacy efforts.

What is advocacy and why should we be involved in advocacy efforts? Officially, an advocate is a person who supports, defends and argues for a cause. To advocate is to act in support of a particular issue or cause. Advocates may be individuals, non-profit groups, independent agencies or other organizations. Being an advocate allows you to influence the way the public and policy-makers think and act on energy and infrastructure policies.

How does being an advocate differ from being a lobbyist? A lobbyist is generally a paid representative of a group, organization or industry. Lobbyists communicate with legislators about specific legislation and express the view or opinion of the organization they represent. To be a lobbyist, you must be registered and comply with state law requiring submission of regular reports detailing lobbying activity. On the other hand, anyone can be an advocate and you do not need to register with the State as an advocate. As an advocate, you are exercising your right as a citizen to participate in the democratic process.

“All politics are local.” This often-repeated phrase holds true in the field of public policy advocacy. At all levels of government, policy-makers cannot know every constituent. However, those constituents who make an effort to develop a relationship with, and are a resource for, their elected leaders can have a real impact. Herein lies the power of grassroots advocacy; individual action and groups of committed constituents joined together provide policy-makers with the expertise they need to make informed decisions, this can truly influence legislation.

Introduce your policy-makers to the work that you do in the district or state so the legislator knows how the natural gas industry serves his or her constituents. Initiating and maintaining a relationship with your policy-makers is the access point into the policy-making process.
Working in coalitions with other committed individuals or organizations are effective approaches to encourage legislators for their support of initiatives. Organized groups of constituents with a common goal and a broad knowledge base with a commitment to share experiences and knowledge about issues at the community, state or regional level hold meaningful influence with legislators as they make decisions about sponsoring and supporting legislation.

The advocacy work of individuals and organizations often tends to focus on the activities in Congress or state legislatures. There is another equally important avenue for advocacy available. Regulatory entities play an important role in setting policy, administering programs, and interacting with the public. These provide excellent opportunities for advocates to influence policy at the federal, state, and local level.  This section provides you with a brief framework of the regulatory process and how it affects energy and infrastructure.

While elected legislative bodies determine the general scope and funding of programs, regulatory agencies have the responsibility to establish rules for implementation and operation of legislative programs. In other words, regulations implement the programs that the legislature enacts.

An example is the establishment of the Utility Accommodation Manual. The legislature passes legislation, such as the statutes giving the Department of Transportation authority to regulate the right of way, and then requires them, in this case, to set specific standards and the associated regulations, or rules, for implementing them. It is the Department of Transportation, for instance, to determine what is a “safe” utility in the right of way.

Decisions such as these have a significant impact on energy and infrastructure, and state agencies have a great deal of discretion in making these associated choices.

Each legislative chamber may originate any type of legislation; however, the processes differ slightly between chambers.

A legislator sponsors a bill, which is referred to one or more committees related to the bill’s subject. The committee studies the bill and decides if it should be amended, pass, or fail. If passed, the bill moves to other committees of reference or to the full chamber. The full chamber then votes on the bill.

If it passes in one chamber, it is sent to the other chamber for review. A bill goes through the same process in the second chamber as it did in the first. A bill can go back and forth between chambers until a consensus is reached. Of course, the measure could fail at any point in the process.

Follow a bill through the process:

Bill originating in the Senate (PDF)

The federal government and virtually every state have what is called an “Administrative Procedure Act.” This act typically sets out the procedures that agencies must follow in developing and adopting rules. Florida has its own version of the Federal Administrative Procedure Act, which, in most states, is similar to the Federal Act.  For this reason, you will find many parallels between the federal and state regulatory processes.

WHY DOES AN AGENCY DECIDE TO ACT?

There are two general reasons that an agency decides to take regulatory action:

  1. Legislative Action: In some cases, Congress or a state legislature determines that an agency should address a particular issue. They will then pass legislation that requires the agency to draft, implement, and enforce rules regarding the issue. Regardless of whether the agency agrees or disagrees with the legislative or executive provision, it is bound by law to follow the dictates of that requirement.
  2. Executive Order: At times, executive agencies have statutory authority that they have not implemented, have not implemented to it full use, or think they have authority they do not. These three areas are all different and can provide stark outcomes as sometimes these actions are merited, some are political, and some are because of retaliation to regulated groups by agencies.    

Local governments, whether cities or counties, have a substantial impact on energy and infrastructure.  Local governments have the last say over many areas of our activities from final inspections by building and/or fire departments, local franchises for utilities, taxation, and uses of right of way.  Without being exhaustive, you can see there are many ways local government policies have impacts on natural gas distribution throughout the state. 

Coalitions equal power. One of the most effective vehicles for grassroots impact on an energy/infrastructure issue is to build strong coalitions.  The advocacy work of coalitions provides an excellent avenue for policymakers to know and understand the opinions, experiences, and concerns of their community or state.

Grassroots advocacy means activating local support for and building coalitions around an issue and voicing that support to policymakers. The challenge of grassroots advocacy is convincing people that organizing and action in support of a particular issue is needed and that it is worth the effort. A coalition brings together individuals and organizations that share common concerns and goals. A coalition can work towards accomplishing a goal in a way that individuals cannot. For instance, a coalition can choose as a goal to establish a program; educate the public about a particular policy problem; gain community support for a policy issue or program; or stop a problem.

Each partner brings different resources to a coalition. While bigger isn’t always better, the more partners you have involved in your coalition, the better the chances of securing your legislator’s vote and achieving the coalition’s goals. More partners equate to a wider sharing of responsibilities and assignments.

More important than the size of your coalition is ensuring a broad base of ideas, opinions and expertise. This will help to create a more diverse, community based approach to defining the problem. A broad-based approach to solving an issue will lend credibility to your efforts in working with policymakers. Policymakers look to coalitions as resources and leaders on a particular issue.

Working with a broad range of partners, more and more coalitions are succeeding by reaching beyond traditional partners to include all in the community who have a stake.

Keep the following tips in mind while building your coalition.

Top Tips for Public Policy Advocacy

  1. Get to know policymakers well—their districts and constituencies, voting records, personal schedules for when they are in the capital and when they are home in the district, opinions, expertise, and interests. Be sure to have a good understanding of the policymaker and his/her concerns, priorities and perspectives.
  2. Establish a relationship by contacting your policymakers before you have an issue to be addressed. Pique the interest of the policymaker in the issue, so that when you have a need you will get the policymaker’s attention.
  3. Acquaint yourself with the staff members of the legislators, committees and resource officials with whom you will be working. These people are essential sources of information and opinion for the policymaker and can have considerable influence in the development of policy.
  4. Learn the legislative process and understand it well. Keep on top of the issues and be aware of controversial and contentious areas.
  5. Identify fellow advocates and partners in the energy and infrastructure community and beyond with whom you can partner. Finding common ground on an issue sometimes brings together strange bedfellows but makes for a stronger coalition. Foster and strengthen relationships with allies and work with policymakers who are flexible and tend to keep an open mind.

So, now that you are convinced that energy and infrastructure advocacy is important, what is the next step? Beyond knowing that energy and infrastructure advocacy is important, how do you learn the basics of being an effective advocate? The following list provides a general guideline to keep in mind as we learn more about the legislative process and how to get involved.

  1. Be open to negotiation. Identify the groups and other policymakers with whom you may need to negotiate for changes in legislation. Do not dismiss anyone because of previous disagreements or because you lack a history of working together. Remember, “yesterday’s opponent may be today’s ally.”
  2. Be polite, remember names, and thank those who help you—both in the legislature and in the advocacy community.
  3. Be honest, straightforward, and realistic when working with legislators and their staff. Do not make promises you cannot keep. Never lie or mislead a policymaker about the importance of an issue, the opposition’s position or strength, or other matters.
  4. Timing is everything for successful participation in the legislative process. The earlier in the process that you involve yourself, the better chance you have at influencing the outcome of legislation or a policy proposal.
  5. Be sure to follow up with policymakers and their staff. Send a thank you letter, which is also a useful tool to remind policymakers and their staff of your visit and the issues. If you offer your assistance or promise to provide additional information, do so in a timely and professional manner. Be a reliable resource for them today and in the future.