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The Family Cafe Advocacy Toolkit

The 2017 Legislative Session

2017 Legislative Session


As the 2017 gets underway please see a brief summary of the major issues that will be discussed, key dates and a brief explanation of the committee structure.


What do you need to know? Every session is different and every session has a storyline with issues that will dominate the narrative. This year even though Republican’s hold significant majorities in both the House and Senate, the Governor’s mansion, and every member of the Florida Cabinet, the lines will be drawn between a very conservative House and a less-so Senate, and the battle between the Governor and House Speaker on the elimination of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida. Even without the daily stream of news out of Washington, this session is lining up to be one of the one of the more rancorous in recent memory.



Notable issues


The budget: This year’s total budget will reach $83.5 million representing a $1.2 billion increase from the 2016-2017 level. Unfortunately, despite a growing economy, a smaller than predicted growth in documentary stamp tax collections over the next few years is forecasted to result in a deficit of $3 billion by 2020. Rather than a three billion dollar cut to the state’s budget at that time, it has been suggested that lawmakers cut a billion out of the budget for each of the next three years in an effort to “mitigate the pain.” These cuts, combined with an aggressive budget submitted by the Governor, and new transparency rules suggested by the House, make this issue one of the most compelling of the session. Many believe a special session on the budget is likely to be necessary to resolve these issues.


Taxes: The governor has proposed $618 million in tax cuts mostly from rent on commercial property. With the decision by the House to cut a billion dollars out of the budget this year, large tax cuts like the one proposed by the Governor will have a difficult road ahead. Neither side seems willing to back down. The Senate President would like to see a tax break for Floridians on their cellphone and cable bills funded in part by the insurance industry.


Economic development: This is the most talked about issue of the session so far. Governor Scott wants to spend $76 million for Visit Florida and $85 million for economic incentives for Enterprise Florida. The House wants to abolish both agencies. Speaker Corcoran has referred to these tax incentives as “corporate welfare.” As the Sun Sentinel points out as it relates to Enterprise Florida: “the state's chief economist says the state is losing money on business incentives. Over the last three years, said Amy Baker, 18 of the state's 26 economic development programs have returned less than a dollar for every dollar invested. That includes the Quick Action Closing Fund that the governor uses to finalize deals. Yes, if Enterprise Florida is folded, Florida would face an unlevel playing field with states that continue to offer incentives.” Stay tuned.


Environmental Protection: The Senate President would like the state to invest in building a reservoir to reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee, preventing the kind of toxic algae we see in the St. Lucie River estuary. Negron faces opposition from the sugar industry, and support from the growing list of Everglades restoration supporters.


Gaming: The House and Senate have very different approaches to the gaming “compact” that has dominated the legislative conversation over the past few years. The prior compact with the Seminole Tribe (which has expired) will need to be renewed in order for Florida to see the $3 billion in revenue generated over seven years for the tribe's exclusivity on certain casino games.




Session is only 60 days!!


March 7, 2017                    Regular Session convenes


April 22, 2017                     All bills are immediately certified


April 25, 2017                     50th day -- last day for regularly scheduled committee meetings.


May 1, 2017                        56th day – Last week of Session! Special Order Calendar may be taken up by House the day its published.


May 4, 2017                        59th day -- House may on consider “Returning Messages” from the Senate.


May 5, 2017                        60th day -- last day of Regular Session




How to Advocate


The legislative process in plain English


Advocating in the legislature can feel like going to court without a lawyer. The 60 day legislative session can be fast and furious, interspersed with so many deadlines and rules that it can be intimidating. These rules can often be used as “excuses” as to why a good thing can’t happen, or why certain requests can’t be entertained. Thousands of bills are filed and only a relatively few will pass. Here are some important things to remember:


Bills are drafted and then filed by Representatives or Senators. They will be assigned to Committees by the Speaker’s Office (in the case of the House of Representatives) or the Senate President (in the case of the Florida Senate).


Once bills are “referred” to Committee they must have a hearing in those committees. Both bodies will generally refer a bill to at least three or four committees.


Most bills will die because they do not get through all their committee references. Bills will often pass all of their committee stops in one body but not both. This bill is dead.


Once bills complete all committee stops they are placed on the House or Senate Calendar.


There are two stops for floor hearings in the House and Senate. First is the “Special Order” Calendar where bills are brought up, amended if necessary, and questions are asked. After the sponsor has explained the bill and all questions are asked and answered a bill is “rolled over” to “third reading.”


The following day a “third reading” calendar will be posted. This is where bills are debated and ultimately voted on. Once a bill is voted out of the Senate it is sent to the House and is placed in “messages.”


An identical bill will have to pass both the House and Senate for final passage to the Governor. This means that even if they are identical (which they must eventually be) the Senate will take up the House Bill in lieu of the Senate bill. or vice versa.


One of the most common ways bills die is that the House and Senate cannot agree on language in a bill. Bills often contain various provisions and any different language in any part of the bill will render it out of order.


Overriding truths and principles for successful advocacy

  • There is no more effective advocate than a well-informed constituent. None. Personalize your communication.
  • Tell your story. Putting a face or personal anecdote on an issue will mean all the difference in the world.
  • A personal visit is the most effective means of communicating with a legislator. Don’t assume that this must take place in Tallahassee. Legislators have office hours in their district offices too.
  • Legislative Aides are a critical cog in the wheel. They decide what a legislator sees and when. Get to know them and always be nice even if you know your legislator.
  • It’s often a question of timing. On any given day a legislator will face dozens of important issues. With limited time before committee hearings a good aide will make sure the boss sees the most important items.
  • People with the identical amount of integrity can come to opposite positions on an issue. Never forget that.
  • Don’t ever take a “no” personally. This experience will prove helpful in future contacts even if your legislator can’t help on this particular occasion.
  • Make an appointment in advance. Usually ask for 30 minutes but don’t be offended if you only get 15.
  • Timing is everything. Visits prior to a vote by the committee in which your bill will be heard are particularly effective. Visits prior to a vote by either the full Senate or House are also helpful.
  • Session is a moving target. Issues come fast and furious and if you are looking at an “alert” or a newspaper story from a week ago, it is highly likely that the issue has changed or evolved completely.
  • Tell the truth even if it weakens your argument.
  • Legislators are like Emergency Room doctors. They have heard it all.
  • Organize your visit if you are seeing a legislator with multiple issues. Time will be limited. Decide in advance of the visit who will say what, and don’t repeat the same points.
  • Whatever you do, do not burn bridges. Today’s supporter may be next week’s opponent, and vice versa.
  • Develop a relationship. The information you know about these issues is legitimately helpful to legislators. Go back and visit and say thank you. Make it a point to schedule a visit to say thank you if appropriate.
  • Write a thank you note.
  • Make yourself familiar with the following websites: and will help you to monitor bills and look up committee agenda’s during session; is an excellent source of news and blogs that monitors the legislative session. It is what most legislators and lobbyists will review first thing in the morning!


The Family Cafe Advocacy Toolkit


The Family Café has created this Advocacy Toolkit as a guide and informational tool for individuals with disabilities and their families who would like to take control of their futures by getting involved in the legislative process through advocacy. This guide will help walk you through the advocacy process and answer some of the questions you might have about it. So that we can make this toolkit as helpful and effective as possible, please provide us with your feedback. Be sure and click on the survey link at the bottom of the page and let us how we did, and if there is anything you think we should add.


First, let us tell you a little bit about advocacy and why it’s so important.


What is Advocacy? The definition of advocacy is any act supporting a cause, including recommending, speaking in favor of, arguing for or pleading on behalf of others. Advocacy helps to make sure that your voice is heard and your opinion is considered when decisions are being made that affect you. Advocates are a big part of the decision-making process, like the Legislative Session we have approaching in March (click below for more information about Legislative Session).


Why Advocate? There are many reasons why advocacy is necessary. As mentioned, it allows your voice to be heard on issues that are important to you. Advocacy enables you to be a part of the decision-making process by educating lawmakers on these issues through the sharing of your personal perspectives and experiences. You can be a part of the creation of change, and your next opportunity is during the upcoming Legislative Session!


See a short video on advocacy here:


When is the appropriate time for me to advocate? 

You can visit your local legislator throughout the year, but Legislative Session is the time period when new laws are created or existing laws are changed. It is best to visit your legislator before Session begins, and then follow up with a call, email, letter or visit again during Session in Tallahassee. Important dates to remember are listed below:


2017 Regular Legislative Session Dates

  • -January 27 – Friday, 5:00pm, deadline for submitting requests for drafts of general bills and joint resolutions, including requests for companion bills
  • -March 3 – Friday, 5:00pm, deadline for approving final drafts of general bills and joint resolutions, including companion bills
  • -March 7 – Regular Session convenes 12:00 noon, deadline for filing bills for introduction
  • -April 22 – All bills are immediately certified; motion to reconsider made and considered same day rule
  • -April 25 – 50th day – last day for regularly scheduled committee meetings
  • -May 5 – 60th day – last day of Regular Session


Interim Committee Week Schedule



  • December 5th - Friday, December 9th (House of Representatives)
  • December 12th - Friday, December, 16th (Senate)



  • January 9th - Friday, January 13th
  • January 23rd - Friday, January 27th
  • February 6th - Friday, February 10th
  • February 13th - Friday, February 17th
  • February 20th - Friday, February 24th


Interim Committees are committees authorized to study particular subjects before Regular Legislative Session begins. These weeks are basically a jump-start on the Regular Legislative Session and most legislation is filed during these weeks. In an election year, Committee Weeks don’t start until after the election in December. In a non-election year, these weeks can start as early as September.


What is Legislative Session?


Legislative Session is a period of time in which a Legislature is convened for the purpose of lawmaking. The Legislature is made of people who can create, amend, or repeal laws. These people are either part of the House of Representatives or the Senate and they represent different parts of the state, also known as districts.


Who do I see to advocate and where do I find them?


Advocacy needs to start with the legislator that represents the district you live in. Each district has a Representative and Senator with a local office. The links below will allow you to enter your address to find out which legislators represent your area. Each legislator will have a local office and a Tallahassee office address listed. You’ll want to start with the local address before advocating in Tallahassee during the Legislative Session.



To find your local senator, click the following link:


To find your local representative, click the following link:


How does the advocacy process work?


Basic advocacy can be broken down into a few steps. These steps are as follows:

  • Identification of key issues and goal-setting
  • Understanding of and familiarization with the identified issues
  • Development of a persuasive argument
  • Outreach to and engagement of the appropriate audience, in most cases, elected officials
  • Follow-up and monitoring of the movement of your issue after your initial argument is made


How do I develop my argument?


Development of a persuasive argument is key in the advocacy process. In order to develop your argument, you first need to identify the issue(s) you want to discuss. This usually occurs through your own personal experience and/or the experiences of your peers. Make sure that your issue is thoroughly researched so that you can explain cause and effect, how it affects you personally, and the approximate number of people affected by your issue. The higher number of affected people, the more likely your issue will gain some traction. Any additional historical information on the issue is helpful, like how people have been affected over the years, the progression of your issue over time, and what the current law is. And finally, possible solutions that you would like to be considered need to be included and explained.


A lot of the information you obtained during the research process should be compiled and used in the preparation of your argument as mentioned above. Put your argument in writing and bullet-point the key points you want to make. Be sure and keep your supporting documentation on-hand. Ideally, your argument should be accepted and in line with the opinions of your peers because their encouragement and support with be essential to your advocacy success. Use yoru stories and testimony as well as those of the people you are speaking on behalf of to make your argument personal. Should your argument put another group at a disadvantage, be prepared for push-back.




The next segment of this toolkit will include different ways of communicating with your elected officials including how to write a letter to an elected official. It will also include tips to remember when meeting with your elected official. Check back at the beginning of January and remember to click below to fill out a survey on the content of this Advocacy Toolkit!



In the meantime, check out this list of historical legislation that passed through the process of advocacy.

Historical Legislation that Passed as a Result of Advocacy


Important Legislation to Remember


Advocacy has resulted in the passage of landmark legislation affecting the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families over the years. Basic human and civil rights, abuse protection, physical and social barriers have been addressed through life-altering legislation that has greatly improved lives of over 5 million people. Some of that legislation is described below.


The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was signed into law on December 19, 2014 by President Obama. This legislation provides supplemental benefits to those provided by private insurance, Medicaid, the SSI program, employment and other sources. This bill amends Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code of 1986 and creates tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities to cover qualified disability-related expenses. Some examples of those expenses are housing, transportation and education. Florida became the largest state to enact the ABLE Act when Governor Scott signed Senate Bill 642 into law in 2015.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990 and is the most inclusive piece of legislation protecting individuals with disabilities. It is broken down into the following five sections:

  1. Employment
  2. Public Services
  3. Public Accommodations
  4. Telecommunications
  5. Miscellaneous provisions


The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights act of 2000 (DD Act), originally established in 1963 and reauthorized in 2000, created four programs that make up a network of program and training centers, advocacy, DD councils and research centers. Those programs are:

  1. State Councils on Developmental Disabilities (DD Councils)
  2. Protections and Advocacy (P&A) Systems
  3. University Centers for Excellence in Development Disabilities (UCEDDs)
  4. Projects of National Significance (PNS)


The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act) contains provisions under seven titles affecting the rights of individuals with disabilities. They are as follows:

  1. Vocational Rehabilitation Services
  2. Research and Training and the creation of the Interagency Committee on Disability Research
  3. Professional Development and Special Projects and Demonstrations
  4. National Council on Disability
  5. Rights and Advocacy and the creation of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board)
  6. Employment Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities
  7. Independent Living Services and Centers for Independent Living


Social Security Act was enacted in 1935 and has been amended a number of times since its inception to include programs for people with disabilities. These programs are:

  1. Disability Insurance Trust Fund
  2. Medicare
  3. Medicaid
  4. Early an Periodic Screening
  5. Diagnosis and Treatment Services for All Medicaid-Eligible Children
  6. Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities
  7. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)



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