TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Visit Florida would stay in business for at least eight more years under a measure the Senate is set to approve next week.
But as lawmakers approach budget talks, the House continues to support closing the embattled tourism-marketing agency this fall.
The Senate on Wednesday positioned a bill (SB 178) for a vote on April 17 that would allow the Florida Tourism Industry Marketing Corporation, better known as Visit Florida, to continue operating beyond Oct. 1. Under state law, the agency must be reauthorized or it will go away on that date.
The bill, as initially proposed by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, offered no end date — known in state government as a “sunset” date. But on Wednesday, senators approved an amendment by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, to extend Visit Florida’s authorization to Oct. 1, 2027.
“Even though we all love Visit Florida, we all know they’re doing a great job, every entity that we create I believe should have a sunset provision that we can come back and look at, to ensure they’re doing what their mission and their purpose was,” Mayfield said.
The reauthorization battle comes as the Senate has proposed setting aside $50 million for Visit Florida in the state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. That would include funding for the period beyond Oct. 1.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has requested $76 million for Visit Florida, the same as in the current year. But the House has proposed spending only $19 million, which would cover Visit Florida’s operations until Oct. 1.
House leaders have repeatedly taken aim at Visit Florida in recent years.
In 2017, the House targeted several contracts Visit Florida used to promote the state, including a $2.875 million contract with an auto racing team known as Visit Florida Racing, and a $1 million promotional contract for Miami rapper Pitbull.
That led to lawmakers altering the structure and contract-reporting requirements of Visit Florida, including establishing new rules that ended partnerships with several local tourism organizations.
State and local tourism officials are fighting during this year’s legislative session to keep the agency alive. They have argued that Visit Florida has helped the state combat negative media from toxic algae blooms and hurricanes. Also, they say partnerships benefit non-urban areas of the state that don’t have the resources to engage in national and international marketing efforts.
“Before, during and after crisis events, Visit Florida works with communities to recover,” Gruters said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “Last year, Visit Florida launched a $9 million marketing campaign to combat misconceptions after Hurricane Michael and red tide.”
Visit Florida, which is run by a 31-member board of directors, has averaged $76 million in state funding over the past five years. If the public-private agency isn’t reauthorized, its assets — after legal obligations have been met — would revert to the state.
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