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State News

Facing Closure, Visit Florida Rallies For Extension Bills

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Victoria Dominguez

Visit Florida is fighting for its existence after last year’s legislative session brought devastating budget cuts to the tourism agency. However, its pleas for survival aren’t swaying one powerful lawmaker- House Speaker Jose Oliva.

CEO Dana Young says Visit Florida has helped draw millions of tourists to the state, and without it, Florida’s economy will suffer.

“Our state cannot afford to do without its number one industry: tourism. Visit Florida actively markets our state’s tourism industry. Tourism is responsible for 1.5 million jobs in the state of Florida, and tourism contributes more than $3 billion to our state general revenue fund,” Young says. “The environment, education, infrastructure- these are things that because of the $86 billion tourism brings to our economy, we are able to pay for all of these things.”

Visit Florida employees and agency backers recently gathered in the Capitol, holding signs and wearing magenta stickers reading “Save Visit Florida.” Among them was Florida's Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez who says Gov. Ron DeSantis is supportive of the agency's cause.

“In 2018, we boasted record numbers of visitors, over 127 million,” Nuñez says. “Following a crisis, Visit Florida works with tourism, businesses throughout the state, and help the impacted destinations recover as quickly as possible.”

Mel Ponder is the former mayor of Destin and represents his city in the House. He’s sponsoring legislation that will re-authorize Visit Florida for another eight years. Rep. Ponder sponsored a similar proposal last year as well last year. He says tourism has contributed to the influx of people moving to Florida.

“What invites them, attracts them, keeps them here is an experience. They may relocate here, put a business here, diversify- Florida’s economy is such a dependent on it,” Ponder says.

But there’s one obstacle standing in the way: House Speaker Jose Oliva. While the office of the Governor may support Visit Florida,  Oliva is taking a different stance, arguing that without the company, taxpayer dollars could go to programs that need more funding, like Medicaid. When recently answering questions from the press, he was asked if he was using support a bill he backs that allows nurses to manage patients without a physician’s oversight as a “bargaining chip” for his position against Visit Florida.

“No, I don’t think so. That would be easy. I don’t think so,”Oliva says.

The Visit Florida extension bill has yet to be heard in the House. It's on its second committee stop in the Senate with a hearing scheduled Wednesday.  Without an extension, Visit Florida will cease to exist on July 1st.