Volume 40, Issue 7 July 2005
The Legislative Process
Industry Representation Helps Toughen the Florida Building Code
by Nanette Lockwood
At 4:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday, June 8, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signed SB 442 into law. The law will, among other things, remove the internal pressure provisions from the Florida Building Code. While it took the Governor only seconds to make this bill a law, his signature was the culmination of months of persistent efforts by industry businesses and lobbyists. Companies such as WinDoor and Solutia were at the forefront of the lobbying efforts, and their experiences show that industry involvement in politics and legislation can have a tremendously positive impact.
Involvement with the internal pressure issue began largely in response to studies conducted by the University of Florida and FEMA in the wake of 2004’s devastating hurricane season. These studies concluded that proper window protection was highly effective, but they also illustrated that the “designing for internal pressures” provision in the Florida Building Code allowed wind and water to enter buildings, which could also destroy contents and create severe mold problems. With the realization that removing this provision could not only save lives and homes in Florida hurricane regions, but could also be good for the laminated glass industry, Solutia chose to support a bill to remove the provision. The company then turned to customers for support as well.
WinDoor Inc., a Florida window and door manufacturer stepped up to the plate. The companies joined together in an effort to see this bill passed into law, and the process they went through to make it happen could serve as a model for future industry participation in the legislative process.
Step One: Hiring a Lobbyist
After deciding to tackle this issue, the first step was to hire a lobbyist. A lobbyist guides a bill through the entire legislative process, so he or she must be knowledgeable about both the issue and the political process. To generate support for a bill to remove the internal pressure provision from the Florida Building Code, Kari Hebrank, a lobbyist who specializes in construction and building code issues, was hired by Solutia.
“The legislature is where the laws are made, but it’s the executive branch agencies, such as the Florida Department of Community Affairs’ Florida Building Commission, that are ultimately responsible for enacting the new laws,” says Hebrank. “So it’s important to have their support. A good lobbyist should have relationships with these agencies as well as with the lawmakers themselves.”
After hiring a lobbyist, the next step was to gather support and build coalitions. To meet potential political allies and to introduce them to the internal press issue, a political fundraiser was held where the local politicians could meet with Solutia’s customers, such as WinDoor. They also arranged for tours of the Oldcastle Glass laminating facility in Tampa to give interested politicians a chance to learn more about the product and its applications.
“It was a great opportunity for management to voice industry issues to the state’s decision makers,” says April Chambers, director of marketing for WinDoor.
In addition to politicians, it was also important to build a coalition of stakeholders—groups or businesses that the bill will affect and that can be counted on for support. For the internal pressure issue, the Florida Home Builders Association and the Florida Insurance Commission were two key players.
“These two groups had something at stake with our bill, and we wanted to discuss the issue and get their input and comments,” says Hebrank. She also met with the construction coalition, comprised of 25 trade associations to keep them informed and to identify potential objections.
Finding Legislators to Sponsor the Bill
As the coalitions grew and the bill was drafted, it became time to find legislators to sponsor the bill. Sponsors can have a huge impact on legislation’s outcome, so proper selection was crucial. When selecting sponsors, Hebrank advised looking for legislators who were knowledgeable and well-informed about the issue, and whose constituents had been or would be directly affected by the issue. It was also imperative that they were well-respected and in good favor with the current leadership, regardless of party affiliation.
Committee participation was also important. If a legislator sat on a committee through which the bill must pass, he or she would need to be able to champion the cause.
“For the internal pressure bill, we worked with Representative Nancy Detert (R - Venice) and Senator Evelyn Lynn (R - Ormond Beach),” says Hebrank. “Both are well- respected legislators from districts directly effected by the 2004 Florida hurricanes, and both saw first hand the devastation hurricanes can cause.”
Continuing to Build Support
After a bill is introduced by its sponsor, the next step is bill drafting where it is assigned a bill number. HB 835 and SB 1232 were the bill numbers for the internal pressure bill. From there a bill enters the complex world of legislative committees.
First, the Rules Committee decides which committees of reference the bill must pass before being sent to the floor. The lobbyist then helps steer the bill through each committee and helps it avoid as many hang-ups and pitfalls as possible.
Both HB 835 and SB 1232 were referred to three committees. For every committee the bills passed through, in both the House and Senate, Hebrank lobbied each individual committee member.
“First I would talk to the committee chairman, his staff and his analysts,” she says. “This gave me a chance to personally explain the bill and its ramifications and to address any specific concerns the chairman may have had. Then I went on to talk with each committee member to do the same. We needed to be sure each legislator understood the bill and understood how it would affect his or her own constituents.”
To this end, grassroots efforts, such as e-mailing committee members, were essential for swaying votes.
“Industry involvement such as these e-mails can make the difference between a bill’s passage or demise,” says Hebrank, “It was nice to see a new industry player, Win-Door, engage in the process.”
Preparing for Floor Vote and Governor Signature
If and when a bill passes committees, as HB 835 did, it is sent to the floor for a vote. As legislators prepare to vote, the lobbyist is available to answer questions and address any concerns legislators may have. HB 835 was passed by the House and then sent to the Senate. The Senate modified the language slightly and passed it back to the House, where it passed without further modification. Additionally, Hebrank worked diligently to include the substantive language of HB 835 into SB 442, a building code bill by Senator Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) and Representative Larry Cretul (R-Ocala).
Before HB 835 could be sent to Gov. Bush for approval, he signed SB 442 into law, effectively enacting the provisions in HB 835. Interestingly, Gov. Bush ultimately vetoed HB 835 in order to avoid any confusion between the two bills.
So what does the new law mean for the glass industry?
“Its impact is huge,” says Chambers. “We are pleased to have partnered with Solutia in their lobbying efforts, and we believe the new law will be very good for the industry. We anticipate significant growth in sales as more people turn to laminated glass for passive storm protection.”
They key to remember, though, is that this bill was not passed by chance. Even though state agencies, such as the Florida Building Commission, approved and recommended removing the internal pressure provision, without industry involvement it may have taken years for a bill to be drafted and passed.
“I like to tell people to get into politics or get out of business,” says Hebrank. “Because legislation has the power to completely change a business or industry, it is incredibly important for businesses to stay in touch, to say active and to help shape policy. Look at what [was] done here. Instead of waiting for someone else, Solutia took this project under its wing and made it happen. This will not only save lives and property loss due to hurricanes in Florida, but it will also be hugely beneficial for the laminated glass industry as a whole.”
Nanette Lockwood is the market manager, specialty products with Solutia Inc.
HB 835 Provisions Within SB 442: Strengthening the Florida Building Code
Now that it has been signed into law, the question becomes: what exactly does the HB 835 provision within SB 442 mean to the glass and building industries? In general, the bill strengthens the Florida Building Code, holding new residential and commercial structures built in Florida to higher standards designed to save lives and protect property across the state.
Specifically, two key provisions of the bill update design standards for Florida buildings.
The first provision removes the option of designing for internal pressure for buildings within the windborne debris region. It requires new structures built in this region to have approved protection over all glazed openings, and it also requires the Florida Building Commission to incorporate the internal pressure prohibition into the Florida Building Code when the base code is updated.
The second key design standard provision requires the Florida Building Commission to adopt the most current version of the wind protection requirements of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 7 Standard for Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures as the basis for structural design for wind in the Florida Building Code. This strengthens wind protection requirements for new homes built throughout Florida.
Other key components of the bill call for further research and evaluation. The Florida Building Commission will be required to evaluate the definition of “exposure category C” and make recommendations for a Florida-specific definition prior to the 2006 Legislative Session. The bill also directs the Commission, in conjunction with local building officials, to conduct a study on the impacts of Hurricane Ivan on the Panhandle region and report back prior to the 2006 session.
WinDoor Incorporated: Getting Involved
As one of the fastest-growing window and door manufacturers in Florida, WinDoor Incorporated has become very involved in the political process. When Solutia Inc. began its lobbying efforts, WinDoor was one of its primary supporters. The company actively participated in Solutia’s political fundraiser and informational events. By being an active member of Solutia’s coalition, WinDoor was instrumental in helping gain legislative and industry support for the internal pressure legislation.
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