VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, will be subject to greater oversight under a bill passed the Florida House Friday.
State representatives passed the measure (HB 9), sponsored by Paul Renner of Palm Coast, by a vote of 80-35. Its reception in the Senate will likely not be warm: That chamber has not moved a matching companion bill.
The legislation has caused a war of words between Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott, who oversees the public-private agency that is funded largely with taxpayers’ money.
The speaker, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has been critical of the agency, even threatening to sue after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism.
The bill requires VISIT FLORIDA contracts “to contain performance standards, operating budgets and salaries of employees of the contracting entity,” and those deals would have to be posted online. It limits employees’ travel expenses and would cap annual pay at $130,000.
Stemming from the Pitbull deal, the proposal also would delete a public records exemption for “marketing projects and research.” It would ban any promotional project from “benefit(ing) only one company.” And it would force the agency to be funded with more private dollars.
In debate, some Democrats—including Tallahassee’s Loranne Ausley—faulted the bill for hurting the “mom and pop” businesses, such as family-owned hotels, who depend on help from the state.
“We know a robust marketing budget translates to more visitors,” she said.
St. Petersburg’s Wengay Newton added, “I think this is too severe a measure to happen today.” But some Republicans, including Key Largo’s Holly Raschein, also voted against the bill.
“This bill is not about whether we should promote tourism in this state,” Renner said. “This bill is about accountability and whether VISIT FLORIDA wants to submit to accountability to move forward.”
The bill does not address next year’s funding for VISIT FLORIDA, which will be worked out as lawmakers debate the 2017-18 state budget.