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Friday, 13 May 2011 11:29

HR Florida's Inaugural Day on the Hill and the Importance of Advocacy for our Profession

Written by Damian Taylor

HR Florida hosted its inaugural Day on the Hill event in Talla­hassee, Florida on February 23, 2011. HR Florida hosted its inaugural Day on the Hill event in Talla­hassee, Florida on February 23, 2011. The event was inspired by SHRM’s annual Employ­ment Law and Legislative Confer­ence in Washington, D.C., during which SHRM educates attendees on a wide array of existing and proposed employment legislation and arranges meetings with congressional represen­tatives to discuss the HR profession’s interest in related policy.

SHRM and HR Florida often empha­size the importance of having their members advocate on behalf of the HR profession. The SHRM Affiliate Program for Excellence advises SHRM chapters and state councils “to estab­lish and enhance relationships with state and federal elected officials” and to participate in SHRM’s annual Capitol Hill Advocacy Day. SHRM’s position descriptions for chapter and state council government affairs direc­tors enumerate various ways in which those volunteer leaders should attempt to encourage other members to influ­ence legislation that will impact the HR profession. Dutiful government affairs directors in turn recruit other HR Florida members to contact their legislators about public policy posi­tions taken by SHRM and HR Florida. Amidst all this emphasis on advocacy, many HR professionals may wonder what value their advocacy may have, what they can accomplish, or how effective they can be. Some historical words of wisdom and the outcome of HR Florida’s inaugural Day on the Hill are enlightening.

In 1961, United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote that in our representative democracy, the legislative and executive branches of government “act on behalf of the people and, to a very large extent, the whole concept of representation depends upon the ability of the people to make their wishes known to their representatives.” Eastern Railroad Presi­dents Conference v. Noerr Motor Freight, Inc., 365 U.S. 127, 137 (1961). As Justice Black noted, the rights of persons “to petition the Government for a redressof grievances” is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Id. at 138. It follows from these observations that the very relevance of our representative democ­racy depends upon whether the people actually will make their wishes known to their representatives. As for whether our voices will be heard, we must remember the words of Napoleon Bonaparte who said, “Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thou­sand who are silent.”

Through the first Day on the Hill in February, HR Florida embraced the opportunity to participate more actively in our great democracy and made its voice and the voices of its members heard on matters of impor­tance to the HR profession. HR Florida promoted the Day on the Hill to intro­duce legislators to HR Florida, to inform them of the valuable resource HR Florida members can be to them, and to help shape the employment-related legislation that so profoundly affects the HR profession. In partici­pating, HR Florida members also realized other benefits of advocacy in furthering their education on the legislative process and several areas of employment law—for which HRCI has awarded several strategic credits—and in establishing new productive rela­tionships with other HR professionals and legislators.

While SHRM encourages its 50 state councils to initiate advocacy on state policy, such efforts are often not as robust or as organized as they are on the federal level. HR Florida has been increasingly attempting to change that over the years, and with the Day on the Hill, HR Florida saw another opportunity to further elevate its state law advocacy. Indeed, HR Florida is now one of a small number of SHRM state councils that have hosted such an event in their state capitols. In HR Flor­ida’s case, SHRM provided invaluable support through Robert Carragher, SHRM’s Government Affairs Manager, who advised the event’s organizers and participated in the event as a program speaker.

The event kicked off in Tallahassee on the evening of February 22 with a wine and cheese reception at the Doubletree Hotel. The next morning, close to 40 enthusiastic HR Florida members from most of the state’s chapters gathered to attend an employ­ment law seminar where the speakers included Mr. Carragher from SHRM Government Affairs; Mark Landreth, President of the Florida Associa­tion of Professional Lobbyists; and Linda Bond Edwards, a partner with Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, P.A. Attendees then networked over lunch at the Capitol dining room, toured the Capitol grounds, and met with Senate and House members and their staffs concerning legislation that will impact the workplace. Issues addressed at the seminar and with legislators included Senate Bill 518 and House Bill 691, which would require all Florida employers to participate in E-Verify; Senate Bill 234 and House Bill 517, which would expand the rights of concealed weapon licensees; Senate Bill 728 and House Bill 7005, which would, among other things, broaden the definition of misconduct that disqualifies a claimant from unem­ployment compensation benefits; andSenate Bill 346 and House Bill 361, which would expand the Florida Civil Rights Act to cover gay, lesbian, and transgender employees.

The fate of pending legislation remained to be seen at the time this article was written. However, one positive legislative development has already followed our Day on the Hill. On March 14, 2011, the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice amended Senate Bill 234, which would expand the rights of concealed weapon licensees to specify that the bill does not modify the employer-friendly (albeit limited) exceptions to the current “guns-at-work” law, Section 790.251(7), Florida Statutes. That amendment appears to recognize employers’ rights to prohibit employees from storing or carrying firearms in company-owned or -leased vehicles and in vehicles at certain safety-sensitive workplaces, which rights arguably would have been subject to attack under Senate Bill 234 prior to the amendment.

Considering the foregoing and the feedback from Day on the Hill partici­pants, HR Florida succeeded in meeting its goals of introducing legislators to HR Florida, informing them of the valu­able resource they have in HR Florida members, and beginning the partner­ship needed to shape employment-related legislation. An overwhelming majority of HR Florida members surveyed said they would recommend the Day on the Hill to others; they intend to participate next year; and they will use information obtained at the Day on the Hill in their jobs. Members also reported being warmly received by their legislators, who were grateful that their HR Florida constituents made the special trip to Tallahassee, and who offered follow-up meetings in their home districts.

HR Florida will continue to track the progress of the above-mentioned bills throughout 2011, and we look forward to building our advocacy efforts by having chapter members schedule meetings with legislators in their home districts, as well as by organizing additional Day on the Hill events in the years to come. In doing so, HR Florida will further the organization’s mission “to be the cata­lyst for shaping energetic, educated, and engaged HR business professionals who have an influence on the field and the organizations they serve.”

5_TaylorDamian Taylor is a partner with the law firm of Coleman, Hazzard & Taylor, P.A., in Naples, Florida, the current State Government Affairs Director for HR Florida, and a past president and past legislative director for HR Collier.

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