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Ed Hooper's bill to reauthorize Visit Florida cleared a Senate panel Tuesday.

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Senate panel OKs VISIT FLORIDA extension

Saving Visit Florida: a yearly tradition.

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee on Tuesday advanced a bill extending the life of the state’s tourism marketing arm.

SB 362, filed by Clearwater Republican Sen. Ed Hooper, would expand embattled VISIT FLORIDA’s mission until October 2028.

Without reauthorization, the agency sunsets in July 2020.

“Tourism is vital to this state,” Hooper said.

Hooper noted that the bill does not boost the budget but just reauthorizes the agency.

“We need to keep them alive so they can fight for appropriations,” Hooper said.

The Florida Lodging Association, Associated Industries of Florida, Florida TaxWatch, Florida Association of Counties and Florida Chamber were among the numerous business, hospitality, and tourism groups supporting the reauthorization.

Americans for Prosperity, in opposition, decried this “wasteful government spending” as “corporate welfare … picking winners and losers.”

“The role of the government is not to act as an ad agency, and it should focus itself on the core functions that society needs to operate. When VISIT FLORIDA talks about matching advertisement grants, what they’re really talking about is subsidizing businesses and their ads with taxpayer dollars,” asserted AFP State Director Skyler Zander.

“The matching grants that VISIT FLORIDA provides to privately owned amusement is a clear example of corporate welfare,” Zander added.

These positions are familiar in the Legislature, which has seen well-defined battle lines in recent years.

The Senate has backed VISIT FLORIDA extensions in recent years; however, the House has been a tougher sell, leading to this impasse.

In 2019’s Legislative Session, lawmakers compromised to extend the agency another year, but they slashed the budget from $76 million to $50 million.

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

Hooper’s bill has two more committee stops ahead before the Senate floor.

The House version, sponsored by Rep. Mel Ponder, has three committee stops. It has yet to have a hearing.

Gov. Ron DeSantis urged earlier this year for legislators to “make a decision” about VISIT FLORIDA and “work through” philosophical differences.

“At some point, you just need to make a decision on it, rather than have it hanging on a thread every year,” DeSantis said.

“I think the Senate is very supportive” of the agency, he added. “I think there’s a lot of people in the House that are supportive of it.”

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Material from Florida Politics’ Tampa correspondent Janelle Irwin Taylor was used in this post.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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