Ed Hooper files VISIT FLORIDA protection bill

It would reauthorize the agency for another 8 years.

Sen. Ed Hooper filed legislation Monday to reauthorize VISIT FLORIDA.

The Florida Tourism Industry Marketing Corporation, or VISIT FLORIDA as it is more commonly known, is currently set to sunset next year. Hooper’s bill would extend that deadline more than eight years to October 1, 2028.

The bill would not have a fiscal impact on Florida’s budget, however, it is necessary in order to fund VISIT FLORIDA moving forward because, without out it, the agency would dissolve.

Lawmakers would still have to iron out how to fund VISIT FLORIDA through the appropriations process.

“I think it’s a pretty important agency,” Hooper said. “It’s nice to have all these corporations coming in, but to me, tourism is still our No. 1 industry.”

VISIT FLORIDA has been under threat in the Florida Legislature in recent years. Last year lawmakers on either side of the issue compromised to extend the agency another year, but they slashed the budget from $76 million to just $50 million.

The resulting budget cut meant the agency, led now by former Sen. Dana Young, had to cut staff by 34 percent.

Asked if he expected ongoing controversy in the upcoming 2020 Legislative Session, Hooper said he couldn’t say for sure.

“The issue is really in the House,” he said. “The score was left to be settled this coming session.”

In 2014, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that affected all direct-support organizations in the state including VISIT FLORIDA. The bill added a paragraph, known as a sunset provision, automatically repealing each organization on a specific date unless reviewed and saved from repeal by the Florida Legislature. VISIT FLORIDA’s sunset date was extended to July 1, 2020 last year by the Florida Legislature.

Rep. Mel Ponder filed a similar bill in the House.

“Last week, economists from the Florida Legislature have confirmed that Florida’s economy relies on tourism. That’s why I have been such a strong supporter of the tourism industry throughout my career,” Ponder said.

“I appreciate CEO Dana Young and VISIT FLORIDA’s efforts to ensure that Florida vacations stay at the top-of-mind for potential travelers, especially following times of crisis. Florida must continue to protect and grow our tourism industry, and I am proud to sponsor a bill that allows VISIT FLORIDA to continue to do just that.”

The Senate passed a similar measure during this year’s session, but the issue died in the House.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


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