On Friday, lawmakers in Florida gave Republican Governor Ron DeSantis effective control of the board that monitors the development of areas in and surrounding Walt Disney Firm’s (DIS.N) central Florida theme parks. This action took the fight between the Republican and the company to a new level.
The state Republicans singled out Disney after the company had a public dispute with DeSantis the previous year on a statute that prohibits the instruction of gender and sexual orientation in the classroom. This law is commonly referred to by its detractors as the “Don’t Say Gay” measure.
On Friday, members of the Florida legislature gave their final approval to a bill that would give the governor the authority to appoint five supervisors to run what is now known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District. This district is a quasi-governmental entity that is responsible for monitoring the 25,000 acres that surround the Walt Disney World resort.
The members of the board will be approved by the state Senate, but the board itself will have no part in the day-to-day operations of the amusement parks.
Bryan Griffin, a spokesperson for DeSantis, stated that the previous structure lacked accountability. Under that arrangement, the Florida legislature in 1967 handed Disney sole control over the district.
“Florida is … beginning a new era of accountability and transparency,” he said.
The special district, which had been in existence for more than half a century and had provided Disney with the autonomy to govern itself as well as governmental services such as fire protection, water, sewer, and waste removal services and infrastructure, was voted to be dissolved by the legislature in the previous year.
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The action, which was regarded as revenge for Disney’s then-Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek speaking out against the state law limiting classroom discussion of LGBTQ problems, resulted in unexpected repercussions. However, the law in question limited classroom discussion of LGBTQ matters.
Tax professionals and politicians expressed concern that the elimination of the district in June 2023 would place county taxpayers on the hook for approximately $1.2 billion in outstanding bond debt.
The Reedy Creek special district will remain intact after the passage of the new measure; but, within the next two years, it will be renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. It will be entrusted with the authority to collect money, make payments on debt, and offer a variety of services to the public. It is against the law for the district to run its own airport or construct nuclear power facilities.
The law makes it explicitly illegal for anyone who has had any kind of connection to the amusement parks in the preceding three years to serve on the board. Jeff Vahle, the president of Walt Disney World, lauded the Reedy Creek district, stating that it had been beneficial to the expansion of the theme park and had made a contribution to the economy of the state.
“We are focused on the future and are ready to work within this new framework,” he said in a statement.
On Friday, there was a discussion over the bill in the state Senate for approximately an hour, and a few senators voiced their disagreement. Senator Linda Stewart, a Democrat who represents Orange County and is also a member of the LGBTQ community, remarked that “this all looks to be payback by the governor for Disney stating its support for the LGBTQ community.”
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