New bill would give Gov. DeSantis control over Disney's special Florida district

Currently, Disney picks oversight members because of its stake in the district.

February 6, 2023, 8:50 PM

In the latest development in Florida's conflict with Walt Disney World, a bill filed Monday during the state's special legislative session would give Gov. Ron DeSantis the ability to appoint a board to run Disney's Reedy Creek Improvement District -- the small, autonomous region that encompasses the company's theme parks outside Orlando.

Those selected by the governor for the oversight board would then go through confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Currently, Disney chooses the members because it owns the district, essentially allowing the company to govern the region around its businesses.

According to the 189-page bill, none of the appointees to the oversight board could be recent Disney employees or have had a contractual relationship with a theme park within the past three years.

Another change that would be enacted would be the name of the district. The bill would rename it the "Central Florida Tourism Oversight District."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks after being sworn in for his second term, Jan. 3, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Lynne Sladky/AP, File

The proposal follows a law passed by the state legislature last year to eliminate the current district, which has granted Disney expansive authority over the carved-out area around its parks.

Instead of eliminating the district, the new bill gives the governor authority over who runs it.

The changes all come after Disney publicly criticized a controversial DeSantis-backed law banning discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in certain K-12 classrooms.

The Parental Rights in Education Law has been dubbed by critics as "Don't Say Gay," while its supporters say it ensures age-inappropriate topics are kept out of class.

Disney, citing concerns of discrimination, has said it "should never have passed and should never have been signed into law." (The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of ABC News.)

DeSantis' office insisted on Monday that the changes to the district were an effort to ensure corporate accountability.

"Florida is dissolving the Corporate Kingdom and beginning a new era of accountability and transparency," Bryan Griffin, DeSantis' press secretary, said in a statement.

Griffin explained that the proposed government oversight of the special district would allow imposing taxes on Disney for possible road projects outside the district's boundaries and imposing Florida law on the area.

Visitors walk along Main Street at The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Sept. 30, 2022, in Orlando, Fla.
Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

The legislation would also keep the district's current financial obligations in place, including outstanding debts, staying in line with DeSantis' promise that neighboring Orange and Osceola counties would not be responsible for the district's $1 billion debt despite the legal changes.

Disney said in a statement on Monday that they were watching the "the progression of the draft legislation, which is complex given the long history of the Reedy Creek Improvement District."

"Disney works under a number of different models and jurisdictions around the world, and regardless of the outcome, we remain committed to providing the highest quality experience for the millions of guests who visit each year," said Jeff Vahle, the president of Walt Disney World Resort.

With Republicans having control of both chambers of the state legislature, the bill is likely to be considered quickly before being approved and sent to DeSantis to become law.

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