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Florida nonprofit expects big year serving as inn for 'citizen lobbyists'

'It feels like home now'
Posted at 7:11 PM, Jan 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-03 19:11:09-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It can cost millions to lobby lawmakers, but for three years a Tallahassee-based nonprofit has tried to help give a voice to those who can’t afford the big-dollar business.

Karen Woodall is the executive director of Florida People’s Advocacy Center. She expects the 2020 legislative session to be her busiest to date.

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For a small fee, what she calls “citizen lobbyists” can use her group’s facility, which sits about a mile from the capitol building.

“People who are under served, who are living in communities in poverty,” she said. “We wanted a building that could house them, provide training, that could provide a safe space for them to coordinate and strategize.”

Inside the more than 40 room structure — conference rooms, office equipment, work spaces, kitchens, even sleeping areas for overnight stays.

Woodall says she mostly serves those working on social and economic justice issues — like civil rights, immigrant or women’s groups. She hopes giving them an affordable spot to work and stay will better provide exposure to lawmakers and bring about change.

“They’re establishing relationships with their legislators,” Woodall said. “Which, at the end of the day, is what makes this process work.”

Brad Ashwell, the state director for voting rights group, All Voting is Local, has been using the FPAC building as office space since October. He called it near a perfect work environment.

“It feels like home now,” he said. “I’m still getting the office decorated little by little.”

Besides being a convenient spot to easily coordinate with similar groups set up down the hall, the facility’s affordability cuts down on overhead allowing dollars to be spent elsewhere.

“We’re heading into a busy election year,” Ashwell said. “I don’t care what issue groups are working on, they’re going to be busy the next few months. All that money can go towards more important things."

Florida is fewer than two weeks away from the start of its next legislative session. Lawmakers will return to the capital on Jan. 14 and are expected to wrap up in March.

“Money is there, always," Woodall said. "We’re not trying to battle that. We can’t. It’s about reminding legislators they’re there to represent everybody.”