TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Republican lawmakers in Florida have proposed a bill that would give Governor Ron DeSantis control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special taxing district that governs Disney’s Orlando-area theme parks. The move would give the Republican leader new authority over the state’s largest employer and a recent political foe.
The proposal, which was unveiled on Monday, would turn over control of Reedy Creek to a five-member board chosen by DeSantis, and would also rebrand the district as the “Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.”
This move comes after a yearlong spat between DeSantis and Disney over a bill to restrict certain classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity. DeSantis signed the bill into law despite objections from Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek.
In what opponents view as political retribution, DeSantis then pushed lawmakers to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which had given Disney control of the land around its Florida properties for 55 years. Republicans, who hold the seats of legislative power, complied, and the district was scheduled to be dissolved on June 1.
However, the new bill breathed new life into the taxing district and kept many of its special powers. The final page of the 189-page bill states that “The Reedy Creek Improvement District is not dissolved as of June 1, 2023, but continues in full force and effect under its new name.”
In a statement to The Associated Press, Jeff Vahle, the president of Walt Disney World Resort, said the company is “monitoring 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,” Vahle added.
The bill, introduced by state Representative Fred Hawkins, seeks to limit the damage to Disney and taxpayers, and makes it clear that the changes to Reedy Creek should not affect the district’s existing debt or any other contracts.
Democrats criticized the legislation, which was introduced in a special session called in part to address Reedy Creek’s future. State Senator Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat, likened DeSantis moving in on a private company to “socialism.” State Representative Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, said of the bill, “Disney still gets perks but they’re now a political prisoner of the governor.”
DeSantis is supportive of the changes, which are expected to pass the Republican-controlled legislature in the coming weeks.
“These actions ensure a state-controlled district accountable to the people instead of a corporate-controlled kingdom,” said DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern.
Under the new bill, the board for Reedy Creek would be made up of appointees chosen by the governor, and none of them can be recent Disney employees or their relatives, nor that of a competitor. The state Senate, where Republicans hold a supermajority, would have final approval of the appointees.
In addition to addressing Reedy Creek, this week’s special session will also address two other contentious DeSantis priorities. Lawmakers have proposed allowing the DeSantis administration to transport migrants from anywhere in the United States, and giving DeSantis’ controversial new Office of Elections Crimes and Security the jurisdiction to prosecute crimes involving elections.