An estimated 23.2 million visitors came to Florida in the first three months of this year, a 3.3 percent increase from the first quarter of 2010, according to Visit Florida, the state's quasi-public tourism promotion agency. Early estimates also show a 2.2 percent increase in domestic visitors, driven by an improving economy and diminished concerns over effects from the BP oil spill, said Will Seccombe, Visit Florida's chief marketing officer. The number of travelers from overseas, especially Latin America, was up 14.4 percent over last year's first quarter. Visits by Canadians were up 8.1 percent. Tourism-related employment for the quarter was just over 1 million, up by 52,300 jobs, or 5.5 percent, the agency said.
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Law to ease port security red tape
Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign legislation that will eliminate multiple criminal background checks for truck drivers and other workers at Florida seaports. For years, ports and maritime business griped over the added hassle and expense of requiring separate checks for workers to obtain port and federal IDs to enter Florida seaports. Florida is the only state that requires workers to have both badges. Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, sponsored the legislation. Young said Tuesday that Scott's office texted her Tuesday that he will sign the bill into law next week.
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Former insurance broker charged
Neal Smalbach, a former broker who was the target of dozens of complaints from disgruntled customers, has been charged in Marion County with three counts of fraud by the state's Division of Insurance Fraud. Smalbach, who lives in Palm Harbor, was arrested April 29 in Pinellas County and is free on $4,000 bail. He entered a plea of not guilty to one count of organized fraud and two counts of insurance fraud stemming from his work with an insurance agency in Ocala. Authorities say that Smalbach intentionally misrepresented whole life policies as mortgage protection insurance, earning about $5,000 in fraudulent commissions. Smalbach, 48, was the subject of an April St. Petersburg Times story about his sales of shares in a shaky Tampa company, Transfer Technology International Corp., to retirees on Social Security. Smalbach's arraignment is set for May 31 in Ocala.
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South Florida TV taping may suffer
South Florida, which has been a magnet in recent years for television production may lose some of its appeal with a new law that shifts state tax credits from television production to film work and encourages productions to move to other parts of the state, the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale reports. The changes to the state's $242 million entertainment-industry financial incentive program were sponsored by state Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, chairman of the House Finance and Tax Committee. Precourt was reportedly miffed that so much of the money had been committed to TV shows that might spread their impact over five TV seasons, as opposed to one-time movie productions.