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Jeff Brandes backs House lawsuit to make Pitbull contract public

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A key state senator on Wednesday endorsed House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s lawsuit seeking to open Visit Florida’s contract with the rapper Pitbull to promote tourism.

“That’s a public record,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, chairman of the Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Subcommittee, which oversees Visit Florida.

Corcoran sued in state court Tuesday seeking permission to subject the contract to public committee hearings. His suit named PDR Productions Inc., the rapper’s management company. The company maintains the document contains protected trade secrets.

“I want to understand the contract, and I want to understand the deal-making behind it,” Brandes told reporters following the subcommittee’s first meeting since the elections.

The rapper, born Armando Christian Perez, has released a rap video promoting Florida’s “Sexy Beaches.”

“I’m not against people having bold ideas and executing on them. But I want to make sure that, at the end of the day, that reflects the values of the state of Florida. That’s the major concern here — that dollars were spent in a way that doesn’t represent our values.”

The meeting was a chance for the Departments of Military Affairs, Emergency Management, State and Economic Opportunity to introduce themselves to new members and present their legislative priorities.

That last agency oversees Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, a business-development program supported by Gov. Rick Scott but which Corcoran considers crony capitalism.

Enterprise Florida is supposed to involve a 50:50 match between public and private dollars. It does not, Brandes said.

“The Legislature was very clear that it be a fairly equal match. There hasn’t been an equal match in some time, if ever. We should go back to what the Legislature intended,” he said.

The chairman said he hadn’t met yet with Chris Hart IV, hired in November as Enterprise Florida’s new chief executive officer. Hart had been president and CEO of CareerSource Florida, a jobs development program also operated by the state.

“I haven’t even had a chance to sit down with him yet,” Brandes said. “Once I sit down with him, we are going to develop our vision for what it’s going to look like in the future.”

As for his own top priority, Brandes said it’s affordable housing.

“We’re going to be more tenant-focused in the future, versus developer-focused,” he said. “You’re going to see us spend multiple committee meetings trying to discover the right pathway forward on affordable housing.”

Asked about money the Legislature has shifted in the past from Florida’s affordable housing trust fund to other priorities, Brandes promised a “fundamental shift” in approach.

“People make decisions that really impact their lives when they have the ability to move into market-based rentals that are closer to transportation, closer to their jobs, and that are in better school districts for their kids,” he said.

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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