The Florida House of Representatives has thrown down the gauntlet and sent Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida to their graves, voting to cut both agencies in a vote held Friday.
House members gathered around the chamber and swiftly passed two bills to reform Visit Florida and kill off EFI, but not before hearing passionate debate from both sides on the hottest issue of this year’s legislative session.
State lawmakers passed the first bill to reform Visit Florida, which promotes tourism to the Sunshine State, approving the measure by an 80-35 vote.
Lawmakers have disagreed over whether or not to make changes to Visit Florida. Those in support of the measure said Florida is wasting its time pumping money into the agency and have questioned what kind of impact state dollars actually have on Florida tourism, while those in support of the legislation say it’s a good way to boost the state economy.
Once they had squared away with Visit Florida, lawmakers then moved on to legislation to eliminate Enterprise Florida and the debate became more intense.
Legislators spent significant time dinging EFI for failing to provide jobs in Florida and for favoring large companies over small businesses in the Sunshine State.
Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, criticized the state’s deal with online retailer Amazon -- one of Rick Scott’s proudest accomplishments as governor.
“To give a retailer's tax dollars to Amazon...I find offensive,” said Oliva.
Members opposed to the legislation feared it would have widespread impact on Floridians who desperately need jobs to make ends meet.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran stood by, glaring with his arms folded as members spoke out against his number one legislative priority.
“Killing this program..will hurt people,” said Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville. “I will not be a part of this.”
Ultimately, the House voted in favor of eliminating the agency, approving the measure by a vote of 87-28.
The twin agencies have been the largest source of controversy during this year’s legislative session.
Gov. Rick Scott has fiercely objected the proposals, relentlessly attacking the legislation for being bad for the economy and for Florida families.
The governor embarked on a statewide tour in February revolved around Enterprise Florida. The mission of the tour was twofold: to promote both of the agencies and to criticize lawmakers who hopped onboard with Corcoran’s proposal to send them to meet their untimely ends.
Scott also used his political committee to create videos slamming Corcoran and state lawmakers and also paid for robocalls to trash Republicans who voted for the measure.
Scott, furious after the vote, quickly released a statement railing against lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill.
“Today’s actions by the House curb the mission of VISIT FLORIDA and bury it in more government bureaucracy – along with decimating Florida’s economic toolkit and the very programs which are directly tied to the creation of thousands of jobs for Florida families,” Scott said.
"Many politicians who voted for these bills say they are for jobs and tourism,” he continued. “But, I want to be very clear – a vote for these bills was a vote to kill tourism and jobs in Florida. I will continue to fight for Florida jobs and never stop standing up for the families and businesses whose livelihood depend on a strong and growing economy."