After several years of short-term authorization — since its fiscal and accountability practices drew sharp criticism in the mid-2010s — an increasingly stable VISIT FLORIDA received somewhat of a reprieve Friday.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 434 among 11 bills late Friday, pushing VISIT FLORIDA’s sunset clause out five years to 2028, from the 2023 expiration date the Florida tourism marketing agency had faced.
With DeSantis’ signature, the agency has its first assurance since 2016 that programs, contracts, employees’ jobs, and purpose will not go away anytime soon.
That year, a series of revelations led Republicans and Democrats to lose faith in the nonprofit company’s accountability and transparency in its quasi-governmental yet largely undisclosed programs to promote tourism to Florida. The agency’s funding and staffing were gutted, and its legislative authorization was put on short-term.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers have given VISIT FLORIDA their support, stressing the importance of tourism to the state’s economy. Last year, the agency reported significant returns as tourism rebounded.
The Senate initially had voted this spring to extend VISIT FLORIDA for eight years, until Oct. 1, 2031. However, Senators agreed to the House’s position that lawmakers only grant the agency a five-year extension. The Senate approved the final measure 36-3 after the House approved it 98-17.
Clearwater Republican Sen. Ed Hooper and St. Pete Beach Republican Rep. Linda Chaney sponsored the legislation.
While lawmakers agreed to extend the agency, they’re keeping the funding on a symbolic tight leash. House and Senate budget negotiators agreed to spend $50 million on the agency next year but from the nonrecurring pot of state funds. Senate appropriators in recent years have pushed for those funds to come from recurring dollars.
That funding still awaits DeSantis’ approval. A decision is expected in the next few weeks, by the end of June.
Florida Politics Reporter Renzo Downey contributed to this report.