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With comprehensive immigration reform gaining momentum in Washington, DC, floral industry professionals will be making visits to Capitol Hill March 12 in an attempt to make sure members of Congress clearly understand how immigration policy affects flower growers and floral wholesalers and retailers.

The Society of American Florists was scheduled to meet March 11 in Alexandria, VA, for its annual Congressional Action Days, which includes speakers and briefings March 11 and visits to Congressional offices March 12.

SAFCAD-1581 Calif 300dpiTalking business at the 2012 Society of American Florists’ lobbying day on Capitol Hill, clockwise from left: Anthony Vollering of Sunshine Floral in Carpinteria, CA; a legislative aide to then-Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA); John Donati of Ocean View Flowers in Lompoc, CA; and Lin Schmale of SAF.The guest worker issue in immigration reform, a key concern for the floral industry, scored a major breakthrough on Feb. 22, when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, negotiating the issue for months behind closed doors, issued a statement calling for a government bureau to determine how many foreign low-skilled workers should be granted visas based on need for guest labor, while ensuring U.S. workers get a first shot at open jobs.

In late February, it looked like legislation could go before Congress late in March, said Lin Schmale, senior director of governmental relations for SAF. “If so, we’ll be making visits on Capitol Hill just as lawmakers have immigration reform top of mind,” she said in a statement. “We have to make sure,” she added, “that any legislation includes reliable access to a legal workforce.”

On Feb. 16, a draft Obama immigration proposal sent to government agencies for review appeared in USA Today, roiling the political waters in Washington. The draft, however, did not include a guest worker program to handle future flows of immigrants for agriculture and other low-wage industries, suggesting, The New York Times reported Feb. 22, the White House “was looking to labor and business leaders to forge their own agreement on this issue.”

Ms. Schmale said SAF has been meeting with labor advocates to work on a unified agricultural guest worker position, and has also formed an alliance with the American Farm Bureau.

An SAF policy statement calls for “policies that ensure an adequate guest worker labor force is available to American floriculture. Creating a workable temporary and seasonal agricultural worker program that meets the labor needs of the floral industry while protecting the rights of guest workers must be a part of any immigration reform legislation.”

Speakers set for March 11 included pundit Charlie Cook, SAF lobbyists Ms. Schmale and Corey Connors and NBC Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O’Donnell. Mr. Cook, editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report, is a political analyst for the National Journal Group and NBC News. Ms. Schmale and Mr. Connors will review talking points on immigration and other key issues, and Ms. O’Donnell will speak at a SAF political action committee dinner.

The agenda for March 12 includes a Grassroots Breakfast, where citizen lobbyist trainer Stephanie Vance will give the Hill-bound troops a send-off for their congressional appointments. A luncheon for contributors to the SAF political action committee will feature Barry Lynn of the New America Foundation discussing entrepreneurism in America, followed by more visits to the Hill and a wrap-up reception at the end of the day.

“This is an exciting time to be part of grassroots action in Washington,” said SAF Government Relations Chairman Marvin Miller, market research manager for Ball Horticultural Co. in West Chicago, IL, in a news release.