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House panel clears Special Session infrastructure, job training bill

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The House’s main budgeting panel on Wednesday cleared one of the bills planned for the Special Session dealing with tourism promotion, job training and public infrastructure.

The Appropriations Committee, on a unanimous vote, OK’d the measure (HB 1A).

Among other things, it creates the $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, and awards $76 million to and imposes accountability and transparency measures on VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency.

The bill—carried by House Republican Paul Renner—was supported by a range of tourism interests, including VISIT FLORIDA CEO Ken Lawson, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, and more than a dozen independent hotel owners from throughout the state.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat, tried to amend the bill, however.

He wanted to shut down the ability of a project getting funded the same year it was vetoed: “I don’t want this to become a back door,” he said.

Moskowitz withdrew his amendment after Renner said there could be “changes in circumstance” that would merit later funding of a vetoed project.

Several Democrats complained about the bill before voting for it.

Rep. Roy Hardemon, a Miami Democrat, said he had no compassion for people “crying on his shoulder” about not getting funding when tourists already don’t visit inner city areas, including Liberty City, that he represents. 

Rep. David Richardson, a Miami Beach Democrat, had reservations about giving Scott and future governors a “big bucket of money with no oversight,” referring to the Job Growth Grant Fund.

Also, “it seems to me there’s going to be no transparency at all … when that money goes to local governments” to be spent, he said. 

And House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa used the example of a man who has expensive golfing equipment but can’t play.

The growth fund “is all bag, no golf … it’s a slush fund, money you worked hard for and send to us, now we’re going to say, ‘here you go, Guv, spend this on who you want to,’ ” she said. 

But Republicans countered that the bill was “exactly what we hoped for … and it feels great,” as Rep. Jason Brodeur put it. 

House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues added: “We will have greater control … We have taken a program that was problematic and made it much, much stronger.”

The committee also approved a bill (HB 3A) for education funding that “appropriates $11.7 billion in total state funds” and “provides $7,296.23 in total funds per student, a $100 increase over total funds per student provided in Fiscal Year 2016-2017.”

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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