Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics

Scott Powers

VISIT FLORIDA board approves $76 million marketing plan, but questions overall goal

With its full state funding finally secured, VISIT FLORIDA’s board of directors approved a $76 million marketing plan for 2017-’18 that pours far more of the state money into core marketing programs than before, all but eliminates sponsorships, and pares down administrative costs backed by the state money.

In a conference call meeting Tuesday, the attending members voted unanimously for the plan that puts $39 million, more than half of the state money approved earlier this month, into marketing efforts for North American visitors; another $11 million aimed at four international markets, the United Kingdom, China, Brazil, and Germany; and another $15 million into various other marketing efforts, ranging from welcome stations at the state lines to $1 million specifically earmarked for a Veterans for Florida program.

Various board and VISIT FLORIDA staff members occasionally yet only briefly acknowledged that the state’s official tourism marketing corporation dodged a bullet this spring after Speaker Richard Corcoran led an effort seeking to cut state funding to to just $25 million, out of concerns of lack of transparency and accountability and questionable spending last year. The $76 million was restored only through the legislative deal struck during the special session three weeks ago, between Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott, who, himself, late last year, fired and replaced the last VISIT FLORIDA president and other top executives, and issued a list of reform demands for the organization.

“I truly believe in my heart of hearts this is VISIT FLORIDA 2.0,” said Interim Chief Marketing Officer Nelson Mongiovi.

The plan approved Tuesday eliminates $11 million from the sponsorship pool of money, and reduces the administrative costs charged to the state by $5 million. All of that was pushed into the various marketing programs, particularly into the international marketing program.

Yet the bottom line goal of the marketing program was doubted and debated throughout Tuesday’s meeting.

Mongiovi set forth a goal of reaching 120 million visitors in calendar year 2017, which would be an 6 percent increase from the record 113 million that Florida attracted last year. Various board members raised concerns over whether that 120 million number was realistic, given some concerns about a potentially softening international market, and given the six months of 2017 in which VISIT FLORIDA found itself in turmoil, shedding staff and potentially losing momentum, while it awaited its fate and the prospect of huge state cuts.

“If I were betting on my private business, I would put it as an aspirational goal but certainly not as a realistic goal, just so we don’t get caught by someone saying, ‘Did you hit 120 million visitors?'” said Gene Prescott of The Biltmore Hotel. “If we can hit it, that’s fantastic. But I think it’s optimistic.”

The goal wasn’t changed, but it was downplayed. Mongiovi and others insisted repeatedly that VISIT FLORIDA’s main goal is to improve the yield of visitors – that is, to attract more of the kind of visitors who spend lots of money. That’s one reason for the increased marketing money going into the international markets. They also discussed their desire to replace or add to the total visitors’ goal with a goal that reflects economic impact dollars.

“I’m focusing on yield. Having the right visitors matter,” said VISIT FLORIDA President Ken Lawson.


Marco Rubio still undecided on health care bill, but liking what he sees

In a new video he released through his office through social media, Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said he still is undecided about the Senate health care bill, but is still studying how it might affect Floridians and sounds generally encouraged, especially about Medicaid.

Last week when the Senate bill was released, Rubio issued a video in which he said he was undecided and would spend however much time it takes to make a decision, and would base that decision on how the bill might affect Floridians.

On Tuesday, in his new 16-minute video released through Facebook Live, Rubio defended the bill’s Medicaid provisions – nationally universally criticized by Democrats, some Republicans and many major health care advocates for cutting Medicaid money – because he argued the cuts are not uniform across all states, and that he believes Florida actually could wind up with more money than before, while other states take the big hits.

He expressed less confidence in what the bill could do to overhaul the individual marketplace for health care insurance, saying that remains uncertain, and he is still studying it.

“I did not decide if I can support it yet,” Rubio said of the Senate bill.

Rubio said he’s been meeting with Florida state leaders from Senate President Joe Negron to state health officials trying to analyze how the bill would affect Florida’s Medicaid program and its insurance and health care laws and regulations, and would be meeting with Gov. Rick Scott in Washington over the next couple of days. Some Florida officials have dome to Washington to work side-by-side with his staff, he said.

He cited what many critics of Florida’s health care programs might take as an irony, that the Sunshine State’s Medicaid programs, without Medicaid expansion and with a federal waiver, by state design, are so relatively small compared to other states that Florida likely would benefit from some of the Medicaid redistribution he says is in the Senate bill.

“We still need to run the numbers. We still need to see what this actually means for Florida. But there is the potential, we should know more later today, that for Florida, with this proposed change, that could actually mean more money, not less money. Maybe not a lot more, but certainly not a cut,” Rubio said.

The individual marketplace issue, he said is complicated because Florida does not have a “functional individual marketplace” now, outside of the highly-structured exchange set up under the Affordable Care Act. So there is more uncertainty how the changes proposed in the Senate health care bill might affect Florida.

“That’s the part we’re going to dig into a little deeper,” he said.

He said he is not operating under any deadlines. He alluded to statements and signals from Senate President Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders in the Senate that a vote could come this week, and that a bill must be passed this summer, “artificial deadlines.”

“Look, here’s the bottom line: I was elected in 2010 on the promise of repealing ObamaCare. I was re-elected in 2016 on the promise of repealing ObamaCare. I am going to vote to repeal ObamaCare,” Rubio said. “But it has to be done in a way that makes things better.”


Airbnb says county agreements should lead it to equal 2016 tax payments in first six months

Vacation home-rental marketing giant Airbnb said Tuesday its expanding list of tax agreements and its growing business should lead it to equal last year’s total sales and tourist tax payments just in the first six months of 2017.

The company announced that its five-month totals in sales and tourist taxes paid to the state and individual counties surpassed $18 million through June 1, so it expects to clear $20 million by July 1. Last year the company’s combined total for the entire state and all of its counties was $20 million, the company stated in a news release issued Tuesday morning.

“The state of Florida and so many of its counties are emerging as national models for how to harness the economic power of home sharing,” Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s global head of policy and communications, stated in the release. “We are committed to serving as good partners to Florida’s local governments, and we will not stop working until every Florida county is benefiting from new home sharing tax revenue.”

The company coordinates and markets individual homes and even private bedrooms put up for nightly rental to tourists and other visitors. It’s an emerging segment of the lodging market that is both challenging traditional hotels and motels and complicating tax collections. State and local governments may struggle to identify who’s renting out bedrooms or entire homes.

Airbnb has been negotiating and signing contracts with the state and individual counties to act as an agent to charge, collect and remit taxes from its client owners of vacation rental homes. The company said it now has such agreements in place with 39 of the 63 Florida counties that charge local bed rental taxes.

A number of those agreements have been signed in the past few months.

Airbnb reported that in the first five months of 2017 it had delivered $14.6 million in new sales tax revenue to the Florida Department of Revenue.

Among individual counties, Airbnb reported the following bed tax payments through the first five months of 2017: Pinellas, $774,500; Orange, $700,500; Miami-Dade, $522,000; Polk, $192,000; Hillsborough, $182,000; Broward, $191,000; Brevard, $165,000; Lee, $153,000; Okaloosa, $144,000; Sarasota, $86,500; and Santa Rosa, $32,000.


Teresa Jacobs outlines $5 million ‘sports bid fund’ for Orlando

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs has outlined her vision for a “sports bid fund” that would use the $5 million approved last year to try to attract major sporting events to Orlando, like January’s NFL’s Pro Bowl Game, which was snagged last year in an ad-hoc manner leading to the desire create such a formal fund.

That means Orange County and Orlando will have up to $5 million available to spend to bid on big sporting events, or small ones, for that matter.

Jacobs’ released a memo and an outline of fund rules Monday afternoon, a work day after the next opportunity for a sports event bid came to light, and too late to do much about it. Nonetheless, on Friday she and the rest of the Orange County Tourist Development Commission pushed forward an interim plan that could make up to $350,000 available to organizers to try to attract the 2019 Major League Soccer All Star game to Orlando.

The Orange County Sports Bid Fund would tap into tourist development tax money set aside for the opportunities. Last November the county approved $5 million for start-up money, and committed $2 million a year for subsequent years.

“This level of sports incentive funding significantly increased the county’s commitment in attracting major athletic events,” Jacobs declared in her memo.

The idea emerged last year when Jacobs found herself in a spring- and summer-long battle with tourism leaders and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer about how how to spend the county’s robust tourism money, which the county controls, but which the city and various sports, arts, convention, entertainment, tourism marketing, and hospitality organizations want more of. During that battle Orlando and Orange County got the chance to attract the NFL Pro Bowl Game away from Hawaii, and did so. But the infighting led to a rework of the county’s tourism tax plan.

That rework included the notion of creating a permanent fund to go after such sporting events with dedicated money, and presumably with less bickering and more concrete process.

Under Jacobs plan unveiled Monday, the fund would be available for sports organizers to request, to cover promotion, marketing, programming, advertising, bid fees, and direct incentive payments, and to backstop certain event losses. It could not be used for general expenses, capital costs, debt, hospitality functions, travel and lodging costs, or transportation.

Events would be judged on their potential to draw visitors and add to the economy. Small events, those that project less than $10 million in economic impact, could seek up to $25,000 in tax dollar assistance. “Regular” events, those that project $10 million to $50 million in economic impact, could be eligible for up to $137,500. “Signature” events, those envisioning more than $50 million in economic impact, would have no explicit limits on what they could seek, and would be funded on a case-by-case basis.

Event attendees and hotel room nights also would be factored into the equations to determine how much money an event organizer could seek. Also to be considered are media exposure prospects, broadcast reach, social media opportunities, hotel capacity at that time of the year, and any incentives for future events.

The MLS All Star Game bid organizers, including the Central Florida Sports Commission and the Orlando City Soccer Club, came in last week asking for up to $350,0o0 guaranteed, to backstop potential losses, should they attract the 2019 MLS All Star Game. The timetable for that bid is too tight for the entire process Jacobs introduced Monday, especially since she delayed release of the Sports Bid Fund guidelines for months. So she and the council agreed to ask the Orange County Board of Commissioners to consider the request at an August meeting.

She also expects the framework she released Monday to be adopted at that meeting.

After that, such requests would go through a Sports Bid Fund advisory board Jacobs outlined.

She caught criticism Friday when word got out that she was intending to announce the program this week, after it had sat in limbo for months, and too late for it to be fully used for the MLS All Star Game opportunity.

Jacobs had defended her decision Friday, and did so again Monday in her memorandum, by saying that the Florida Legislature was considering proposals this spring that could have affected how tourist tax money could be spent. So she wanted to wait until the Legislative Session and the Special Session ended before launching it.

“I would like to point out that the Sports Bid Fund evaluation criteria contained in this memo are based on strong accountability and transparency measures as were discussed during the 2017 Legislative Session,” she wrote in the memo. “We now are at a point where we can start to provide the necessary structure for this new program.”

The framework she released outlines what she called accountability, transparency and governance rules, which she said would include “robust reporting and post-event audit requirements.”

The guidelines also outline the goals, which include attracting “best” events, supporting the tourism industry, and bringing events for local citizens.

An advisory council, which would report to the Orange County Board of Commissioners, would hear the proposals and oversee their evaluations. The council members are to include a chair appointed by the mayor, and six specialists appointed by the commission: a citizen representative, a theme park representative, a financial or accounting representative, a Visit Orlando representative, a Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association representative, and an International Drive Chamber of Commerce representative.

Critics on Friday questioned why she

New poll finds same-sex marriage support in every generation except elders

The generational divide on gay marriage just crossed another threshold as a new poll finds that majorities of Americans in every age bracket now support same-sex marriage except for the oldest, those in the Silent Generation.

The latest biennial survey by the Pew Research Center finds for the first time that a majority of those polled in the Baby Boomer Generation now support same-sex marriage.

That extends support into older brackets into what always has shown a clear generational gap in all of Pew’s polls on same-sex marriage. For many years the surveys have shown that the younger the voters the more likely they are to support gay marriage. But the support has been growing across the board, and now that support has crept into the over-50 crowd.

Overall, the survey found 62 percent of American adults support gay marriage, and 32 percent oppose.

“Two years after the Supreme Court decision that required states to recognize same-sex marriages nationwide, support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally is at its highest point in over 20 years of Pew Research Center polling on the issue,” Pew declared in a write-up on the survey, conducted June 8-18, among a national sample of 2,504 adults, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Just six years ago, in 2010, those supporting gay marriage exceeded those opposing it for the first time. The gap has widened ever since.

And it has most widened among generational lines. In the latest survey, 74 percent of  people in the Millennial Generation, born after 1980, supported gay marriage; 65 percent in Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980; 56 percent in the Baby Boomer Generation, born from 1946 to 1964; and 41 percent in the Silent Generation, who were born prior to 1946.

Support grew for all four generations, and most for baby boomers, who increased their support from 45 percent in the last Pew survey taken in the spring of 2015.

There remain strong splits on the topic between political parties, and between people of various religious faiths. Splits occurred but were less pronounced among racial and ethnic boundaries, and among education levels, with all racial, ethnic, and education level groups now showing majorities supporting gay marriage.

Republicans are almost split on the issue now, with 48 percent saying they oppose same-sex marriage, while 47 percent say they support. That one-point gap has fallen from 32 points five years ago. Democrats have supported same-sex marriage since at least 2007, and now the support is overwhelming, with 76 percent saying yes, and 19 percent saying no.

Among religious faiths, majorities of white evangelical Christians and black Protestant Christians still oppose same-sex marriage. But support in both groups is growing. White evangelical support has risen from 14 percent in the 2007 Pew survey, to 35 percent this month. Black Protestant Christians support has increased from 24 percent in 2007 to 44 percent now.

There also is a clear generational difference that shows up when Pew split out Republicans and white evangelical Christians by age; each younger generation shows more support than its elders.

Stephanie Murphy seeks to rework ESOL funding to account for Puerto Ricans in Florida

Democratic U.S. Sen. Stephanie Murphy said Monday she intends to introduce legislation that would rework how the federal government provides funding for English as a second language programs, in order to account for incoming Spanish-speaking students from Puerto Rico.

Appearing at a Puerto Rico forum in Orlando Monday morning, Murphy, of Winter Park, said the current federal formulas weigh students moving in from foreign countries who do not speak English, but do not account adequately for Spanish-speaking students who move from Puerto Rico.

Last year more than 1,200 new Puerto Rico students enrolled in English as a second language programs in Orange County alone.

“Puerto Rico, of course, is not a foreign country. So students who move from the island to Florida are not sufficiently counted in that formula,” Murphy told the gathering. “And therefore Florida and Central Florida specifically does not receive the amount of funding it should. In the coming days I will file a bill in Congress to fix this formula. Our children deserve a first-class education, and I hope this bill, if enacted into law, will help.”

The panel discussion, which included Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando, Orange County School Board Member Joie Cadle and Republican Anthony Suarez, president of the Puerto Rico Bar Association of Central Florida, provided a broad chat on issues ranging from statehood, to equality in federal funding, to migration to Florida, but not much depth.

Murphy reiterated her position of supporting statehood as “the next logical step for Puerto Rico,’ cautioning, however, “you’ll never hear me criticize those who support independence.”

Torres raised questions he said Puerto Ricans are asking about the potential of statehood – notably, will it help or hurt islanders?

Citing curiosity from his uncle recently visiting from Ponce, Torres offered, “What we need to know in Puerto Rico is, what is statehood gonna do to us? What is the benefit of statehood? Is this deficit going to be addressed? The Medicaid problem? The other issues we face here?”

Observer Peter Vivaldi, a Republican who ran against Torres last year, expressed disappointment afterwards that Murphy continues to express support for statehood but said she offers no action on the issue.

Prior to the panel discussion, when a reporter asked what Congress might do about potential statehood,  or what she might do to promote it, Murphy did not answer specifically. When another reporter asked about a Republican-dominated Congress showing no interest in Puerto Rico becoming a 51st state, she replied, “I believe that now that they [Puerto Rico voters] have overwhelmingly voted for statehood, it’s not a question of whether Puerto Rico becomes a state, but when. I look forward to supporting the government of Puerto Rico as well as their delegate in Congress as they try to seek to advance that.”

Vivaldi said he thought there would be more discussion about statehood, but much of the panel discussion covered other Puerto Rico topics.

“I heard the congresswoman’s statement, where she stands. I understand she is for the people of Puerto Rico…. She understands the issue going on, but I also would like to hear more of the fight in her,” Vivaldi said. “Just coming out and doing a press conference, or doing statements is not enough. We want to see the vote. We want to see Congress in action.”

That also underscored an exchange earlier between Torres and Suarez, with Torres blaming Republicans for holding up any Puerto Rico action in Congress, and Suarez reminding him that the Republican platform actually calls for statehood for Puerto Rico.

“The proof will be in the pudding,” Suarez said.

Victor Torres jumps on Gwen Graham bandwagon

Orlando’s Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres has thrown his support behind former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham for governor.

Torres is a first-term senator who spent two terms in the Florida House of Representatives.

“As someone who has lived a full life full of hard work, I can tell you nothing provides more insight into what Floridians need than real life experiences. Raising three children, volunteering in the PTA and working for her local school district, Gwen Graham has the knowledge and common sense solutions to renew Florida’s public schools,” Torres stated in a news release.

Torres’s daughter, state Rep. Amy Mercado, who succeeded him in his house seat, already has endorsed Graham.

“She’s fighting to make sure our children and grandchildren have more opportunities to succeed and that when they graduate — whether it’s from high school or college — they have good paying jobs available right here in Florida. Gwen understands how important education is to our community and to all Floridians,” Torres continued. “This is why I’m proud to enthusiastically endorse Gwen Graham for Florida’s next governor.”

Graham faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King for the Democratic nomination for governor in the 2018 race.

“For too long Tallahassee politicians have had the wrong priorities for the wrong people. Too many Floridians in our growing state have been ignored. We must put an end to businesses as usual and extinguish the status quo,” Graham stated in the release. “When I’m elected governor, our state will support every community as we renew our promise to public education, expand health care and create good-paying jobs, right here in Florida.”

According to a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida’s Hispanic population is growing fastest in Central Florida and the suburbs of Tampa.

“The I-4 Hispanic community is the fastest-growing population in the state. We’re making our voices heard — and Gwen is taking the time to listen,” Torres said. “She’s working on the issues we care about, from protecting public education to building an economy that works for all Floridians. As governor, she will work to raise the minimum wage and institute paid sick leave, invest in technical training and infrastructure, and diversify our economy.”

Another state lawmaker, Patrick Henry, backs Andrew Gillum

Democratic state Rep. Patrick Henry of Daytona Beach has thrown his support behind Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the 2018 governor’s race.

Henry is a first-term representative.

“Mayor Gillum will bring bold and needed leadership to our state’s most pressing issues including a stagnant economy that produces too many low-wage jobs, a health care system that leaves too many behind and a chronically underfunded education system,” Henry stated in a news release issued by Gillum’s campaign.

Gillum faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King for the Democratic nomination.

“Representative Henry’s support means the world to me,” Gillum stated in the release. “He has quickly made a name for himself in the legislature by serving the people of Volusia County with integrity and passion, and I’m proud to have his endorsement. Floridians are facing many imposing challenges, but with the help of leaders like Representative Henry, we can have the courage to finally lean in and address them.”

Teresa Jacobs not talking about possible CD 7 run, but expresses a glimmer of interest in CFO run

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said Friday she’s not currently talking to anyone about running for Congress against Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy and expressed little immediate enthusiasm for the prospect.

While also disclosing no immediate activity for either race, Jacobs appeared to show at least a glimmer of interest in running for the Florida Chief Financial Officer position in 2018.

Jacobs, who is term-limited out at the end of 2018 from the mayor’s position, has been widely viewed as a Republican with higher office potential in her future, and in recent weeks has been widely rumored to be a possible candidate in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, the northern Orange and Seminole counties district where Murphy won an upset over 12-term Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica last fall.

Jacobs also is known as a politician who keeps her political ambitions tightly guarded.

On Friday, following an Orange County Tourist Development Commission meeting, she dismissed any immediate ambitions and insisted she has not decided yet what she would like to do after her mayoral term expires.

“I’m not asking around. I haven’t made any decisions at this point about what I mean to do when I leave,” Jacobs said.

When asked if she has any interest at all in running for Congress, she said, “I think it’s premature to answer that question.”

Other Republicans considering a run have expressed far more immediate interest, but no one has filed yet. On Thursday state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park said he is “seriously considering” the prospect. This spring state Sen. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs said he was “98 percent certain” he would run.

What about CFO in 2018?

“I’m not certain. I haven’t ruled that out, but the only thing that I know is whatever I do whether it’s public sector or private sector, my goal is to do something that is meaningful,” Jacobs said. “I mean, I had a job for ten years (in banking) in the private sector; paid well, but I didn’t come home at night feeling I was having a positive impact in people’s lives. And that’s what I’ve been able to do for the last seven years.”


HD 44 special election candidates debate health care, education, marijuana, tourism support

Stark differences of policy positions were evident between the one Democrat and three of the four Republicans running to fill the open Florida House District 44 seat but the differences between the Republicans proved more subtle in a debate Friday, boiling down to who claimed the strongest ownership of particular GOP positions.

The debate sponsored by the West Orange Chamber of Commerce in Ocoee, pitted Democrat Paul Chandler and Republicans Usha Jain, John Newstreet, and Bobby Olszewski, while Republican Bruno Portigliatti sent his regrets.

A few hours after the debate, the West Orange Political Alliance, the political arm of the West Orange Chamber of Commerce, announced it had endorsed Newstreet.

With a question asking how they expected to address the estimated 13 percent of Floridians who are without medical insurance as the Affordable Care Act faces repeal, Olszewski said the state needs to focus on “smart business principles.”

“We need to assure that we have less regulation, to be able to work closely with our insurance companies and our providers. And I think the focus needs to be on preventive medicine. We have a shining example of that here in our own community, with Healthy West Orange, and how they are partnering with West Orange Community Health Care District, and working with our local hospitals and community organizations like the YMCA,” Olszewski said. “When we open up the insurance with competition, and work with our providers with preventive medicine, working with opening up the insurance borders, I think we’ll see a better result here in our home state of Florida.”

Newstreet pointed to his experience as a veteran working within the Veterans Affairs health system.

“As a chamber executive [president of the Kissimmee-Osceola County Chamber of Commerce] I have five hospital facilities within Osceola County and I interact with their CEOs. With the state legislature angle, it’s important we begin with the end in mind. In that regard, I think if the aim to lower costs, to improve outcomes, there definitely is some more work to be done there,” Newstreet said. “Some of the things the Legislature looked at this past session that I think will merit further scrutiny, direct primary care, telemedicine, and as alluded to earlier, preventive care and well-being care programs.”

Jain pointed out that while Olszewski and Newstreet may know hospitals and doctors, she is a doctor — an urgent and emergency care physician in the community for 37 years.
“I have been associated with this issue more than anybody because I see these patients crying; they do not have insurance, they have been waiting in the hospital for many hours,” she said. “That is one of the reasons I am running. I cannot see patients being turned away for not getting care. If you don’t get care, you’ll die. Every citizen should have the right to choose their insurance. We have to have competition. And I want to have a state facility where people can be treated whether you have insurance or not.”

Chandler, who owns a medical billing and data management company, said the answer still lies with getting Florida to include the Medicaid expansion offered in Obamacare. “And the second thing I want to work on is expanding mental health resources and support for mental health treatment centers. Florida is the third most-populous state in the country, yet we’re last in mental health spending,” Chandler said.

The four all pledged support for public education and insisted they consider education critical, with Olszewski and Newstreet pointing out they are the sons of teachers and are married to teachers, and Chandler pointing out he used to be a teacher.

Jain responded with empathy for teachers, saying that her “heart goes out to the people teaching our kids. Where they are, they are not getting enough … Everybody should be paid according to what they do.”

Newstreet and Jain both expressed their personal opposition to medical marijuana and while accepting that it is the law in Florida, both said they would work to keep the program from expanding. Newstreet and Olszewski both said the state must work closely with local governments to make sure they have the tools they need to have local safeguards in place.

“As a Coast Guard veteran where my comrades to this day continue to interdict and fight the drug trade, I can’t support this,” Newstreet said. “But it is the law of the land.”

One of the state’s licensed grower-producer-marketer of marijuana products, Knox Medical, is located in Winter Garden, within HD 44.

Chandler expressed strong support for the medical marijuana program and chastised Republicans for not making more of a priority of last fall’s overwhelming approval of Constitution Amendment 2.

And, Chandler added, medical marijuana should be more available to help people reliant on addictive “painkillers and opiates, which have overdoses and kill people.”

All four expressed strong support for funding for Visit Florida, which the Florida Legislature nearly cut by $25 million amid reports and allegations that it had become an out-of-control and unaccountable agency.

House District 44 is home to Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Orlando.

“I think we have a couple of theme parks in House District 44, don’t we?” Olszewski said when asked if he supported Visit Florida. “There is no doubt we need to fund VISIT Florida, but being financially responsible.”

Chandler said VISIT Florida marketing actually contributed to his decision to move to Florida from St. Louis 15 years ago.

Newstreet called tourism the area’s “lifeblood,” and said the tourism community “will have no better friend in Tallahassee than me.”

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