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Snow, sleet, freezing rain throw wrench into SAF’s Congressional Action Days

A powerful northeaster delivered every type of precipitation to Washington, DC, during the Society of American Florists’ 37th Annual Congressional Action Days March 13-14. But despite the bad weather, 119 participants from 30 states, including 35 first-timers, traveled to the nation’s capital to advocate for industry issues and to share their stories with lawmakers.

“It was a mess,” Christine Boldt, executive vice president at the Association of Floral Importers of Florida in Miami, told The Produce News. “The government started two to three hours late and they cancelled the vote that day in Congress, so there was only staff there and no chance of seeing any congressional people. For a one-day event like we have, you can’t really re-schedule. I had an appointment at 11:30 a.m. and one at 4:30 p.m., but the day before they cancelled them due to the weather.”

CADSnowShotThe SAF 2017 Congressional Action Days March 13-14 drew its highest attendance in more than a decade, with 119 participants from 30 states.Brad Denham, co-owner at Arizona Family Florist in Phoenix, told The Produce News, “The snow wasn’t as bad as everyone thought it would be, but it was bad enough to screw up plans. They started cancelling everything the night before and that pushed our appointments back for the lobbying that we were doing. It was almost a completely wasted trip.”

According to a news release, the SAF delegation focused its energy this year on three core issues — tax reform, immigration reform and industry research funding — asking their lawmakers to:

Support comprehensive tax reform by simplifying the tax code and reducing rates, but exclude imported floral agricultural products from a border adjustment tax.

Oppose standalone mandatory E-Verify legislation, including S.179, the “Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act,” which Shawn McBurney, SAF’s senior director of government relations, said would “cripple our agricultural economy.” Support true reform, which includes enforcing immigration laws at the border, improving verification of employment authorization, and creating an acceptable agricultural workforce development program.

Include a $250,000 increase for the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative in their formal requests to the Appropriations Committee.

“Every year SAF has three issues that they want members to bring to the Hill,” Boldt told The Produce News. “They are usually topics that are general and widespread, so whether you’re a retail florist or a wholesaler or an importer, you can talk about those issues. This year the border adjustment tax is a big thing because it affects everyone in the industry — it’s a pricing thing. But the other side of this is that there has not been any real definition of what the White House wants to do with the tax — nobody knows.”

After being briefed on the top three issues by various lobbyists, attorneys and advocacy associates, attendees met with their state delegations to map out a strategy for their meetings.

SAF’s President-elect Bill LaFever reminded participants that, especially in a charged political environment, personal stories matter.

“Civil discussions lead to meaningful change,” LaFever said in a news release. “Lawmakers can’t make decisions without hearing from a broad swath of people.”

And Skip Paal, head of Rutland Beard Floral Group in metro Baltimore, told the crowd, “We don’t have to be the experts — our stories matter.”

Next year’s Congressional Action Days will take place March 12-13.