Nearly 250 municipal officials brought the power of local voices to the state capital for the 2023 Legislative Action Days. Hosted annually during legislative session by the Florida League of Cities (FLC), Legislative Action Days provides opportunities for city leaders across the state to network with other elected officials, meet with lawmakers about local impacts and advocate for legislative issues affecting cities. This year’s event had the highest number of registrations to date.

The three-day event kicked off with a Know Before You Go Session that prepared attendees for Legislative Action Days. The next day, attendees gathered at City Hall for a legislative briefing and heard from FLC President Jolien Caraballo, Vice Mayor for the City of Port St. Lucie. “Our strategic approach is working,” said Caraballo. “We’re at the table with leadership. We’re changing the outcome of bills. Telling your story is helping our state officials understand the value of local self-government.”

Caraballo also recognized the legislative policy committee chairs, the Advocacy Committee Chair and the Federal Action Strike Team (FAST) Chair for their dedication. These committees meet regularly to bolster the League’s advocacy efforts.

The FLC Legislative Affairs team then provided an issue briefing on major bills and key messages to share when meeting with legislators. In a panel setup, the team also explained the League’s lobbying strategies and how members’ advocacy efforts through President Caraballo’s finding #commongrounds initiative help bolster their efforts.

“Advocacy starts locally,” said Jeff Branch, Senior Legislative Advocate for the League. “You are your city’s first advocates. When you share your feedback from meeting with your legislators to us on the lobbying team, it further tells your local story.” FLC Chief of Legislative Affairs Casey Cook added that the more information and stories the League’s Legislative Team hears from members, the better they can communicate those impacts to legislators during their lobbying efforts so that legislators see the whole picture.

These lobbying efforts boil down to building rapport, said Lois Paritsky, Mayor of the Town of Ponce Inlet and FLC Advocacy Committee Chair. “This event is very significant because it is an opportunity for us to do the relationship-building that is talked about,” Paritsky said, “because once you have a relationship with someone, you’re then in a position to effectively advocate.”

Following the briefing, members headed to the Capitol to meet with legislators and discuss priority issues. Arcadia City Administrator Terry Stewart, who has worked in local government for almost 54 years, said, “One of the things that I’ve known over the years is that in order for your voice to be heard, you’ve got to express it.” Let people know your concerns, needs, desires and hopes, said Stewart. “One of the ways in which we do that is to come to Tallahassee to address those issues that are important to local communities.”

For Ella Gilbert, Senior Deputy City Attorney with the City of Port St. Lucie, Legislative Action Days helps foster existing relationships. Before making a request to a legislator, you need to get to know the member on a personal level, she said. “Legislative Action Days helps us as we build on our relationships with members of our legislative delegation, and it’s important to carry the message of Home Rule and local government control here in the state capital.”

By finding common ground and building relationships with legislators, the League’s members and legislative team were able to make an impact during this legislative session. (See p. 34 for more about the 2023 Legislative Session.)

Caraballo said, “You are so important in being a bridge for what League staff is doing in Tallahassee. With your help, we’re achieving even greater success. We’re advocating for and protecting our cities.”

By Kelli Gemmer

Kelli Gemmer is the Communications Director for the Florida League of Cities.