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Senate Gives Visit Florida A Boost With Reauthorization Bill, But Real Challenge Lies With House

Florida’s tourism and marketing agency has powerful supporters the state senate Now one of its committee has backed a bill keeping the agency around for the next eight years. But Visit Florida’s survival largely depends on the house.

Even with the early support Visit Florida reauthorization will have to get through the House. It's leader, Speaker Jose Oliva, isn't a fan of the agency. Also among those opposing the agency is the libertarian-leaning advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, which views Visit Florida as a corporate handout.

“Americans for prosperity is simply asking for the legislature to sunset visit Florida in 2020 and let private investment fund 100% of their own advertising,"  AFP Policy Director Phillip Suderman told the Senate's Commerce Committee Tuesday. 

Visit Florida is partially funded through private money. In recent years, it’s focused more on promoting rural parts of the state. But Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Palm Harbor, argues the agency adds value—and he notes for every dollar spent on marketing, state economists estimate $2.15 comes back to the state in revenue. "I will take that every day," Hooper said. 

“I believe this is our smokestack. Tourism is the smokestack of Florida industry. And it’s important to keep that moving forward.”   

The public-private partnership ran afoul of house leaders several years ago over secretive, high-priced contracts with celebrities. Since then, it’s state funding has been drastically scaled back. And it lost a third of its staff this year due to budget cuts. If lawmakers don’t approve an extension, the agency is set to shutter next July.  

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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