New bill would shift authority from Disney to DeSantis

Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida (Abigail Nilsson/ABC via Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — The future of Walt Disney World’s special governing district could be decided by Florida lawmakers as soon as next week.

Republican legislators filed a new bill Monday that would dramatically overhaul the governance framework of the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) — a special tax district comprised of more than 27,000 acres near Orlando that Disney has controlled for more than 50 years.

Under the new legislation, Gov. Ron DeSantis would appoint the five members who make up the supervisory board overseeing the district. The Florida State Senate would then have to approve those appointments. Until now, those members were chosen by Disney-controlled entities.

If the proposal is passed, the RCID would be renamed to the “Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.”

Rather than dissolve the district entirely, as DeSantis set out to do last April, the new law leaves it mostly intact while shifting much of the governing power from Disney to the state.

Established in 1967, the Reedy Creek Improvement District allowed Disney to self-govern the area around its major theme parks. The arrangement gave the company control over permitting, firefighting, power generation and even road maintenance.

That special status had remained unchanged until last year when the American entertainment juggernaut criticized a Florida bill that barred instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

DeSantis pushed back and vowed to reconsider Disney’s private government last spring — a position he doubled down on last week.

“We’re not going to have a corporation controlling its own government,” DeSantis said at a news conference.

Republican critics of the district argue it gives Disney a commercial advantage unavailable to others but Democratic lawmakers in Florida have criticized the GOP’s stance.

In a statement to NewsNation, Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, called the move a “power grab by the governor” and called it a “gross farce at corporate accountability.”

Other experts to whom NewsNation spoke warned that the tactic could dissuade other companies from doing business in the Sunshine State.

“If the message going forward is that any business in the state of Florida must be subservient to the social agenda of the dominant party … there’s a lot of companies that just won’t take that deal,” said Gregory Kroger, a political scientist at the University of Miami.

In an email to NewsNation on Tuesday, the governor’s office said “dissolving the Corporate Kingdom” will ensure the company, not taxpayers, pays more than $700 million in unsecured debt.

DeSantis’ office added that the new changes will create avenues to “compel Disney to contribute to local infrastructure” and “prevents Disney from gaining more land by eminent domain.”

If passed, the bill would go into effect immediately.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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