VISIT Florida to be extended five years — not eight

Pensacola - Family in innertubes at Pensacola Beach - 2020 (credit- Visit Pensacola) (Full Marketing Rights)
The Senate will pass an extension for Visit Florida until 2028. Funding for it, though, is still up in the air.

VISIT Florida, the state’s public-private tourism marketing arm, will get a five-year lease on life after the House on Wednesday passed a bill to extend its authorization in law to Oct. 1, 2028. It’s currently slated to expire on Oct. 1, 2023.

The Senate, which had preferred an extension until 2031, will accept that version of the bill when it returns to that chamber, Sen. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican and sponsor of SB 434, said late Wednesday.

“Yes, when it comes over, we will take the five years and pass it out,” Hooper said. “I checked with (VISIT Florida CEO Dana) Young and while obviously she would’ve preferred eight years, as would I, five is better than one.”

The Senate originally passed the bill to extend VISIT Florida to 2031 by a 36-1 vote on Feb. 3. The House on Tuesday amended it to reduce it to 2028 and passed it 98-17, with 15 Republicans voting against it.

House leaders in 2017 attempted to eliminate the program, with then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran insisting it was “corporate welfare,” but the move never passed the Senate. Transparency reforms, however, were passed to ensure VISIT Florida contracts were made public.

“I want to remind the members that each year the Legislature approves the budget for VISIT Florida,” said Rep. Linda Chaney, a St. Pete Beach Republican and sponsor of the House version of the bill. “We still have control over the budget for VISIT Florida, we still have oversight.”

Although there’s an agreement on the bill, there’s still a snag in how to fund the group, which has existed since 1996.

The Senate prefers to give VISIT Florida $50 million in recurring funds, a steadier funding source than the nonrecurring $50 million preferred by the House, essentially one-time funds that aren’t guaranteed the next year.

“We’ve got to work that out,” Hooper said. “We’ll take the House language and we’ll work out the funding issue.”

Gray Rohrer


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