Governor Ron DeSantis Expected to Control Disney District Governing Board

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis would take control over the board of a special governing district operated by Walt Disney World under a bill introduced on Monday. 

GOP leaders in the statehouse, along with DeSantis, have begun restructuring the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the Disney government is known.

The new proposal would essentially leave the district’s abilities intact but change its name to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and require Gov. DeSantis to appoint a five-member oversight board. Previously, members were named through Disney-controlled entities. 

The bill is the latest development in a high-profile dispute between Disney and DeSantis over the company’s criticism of a law critics have dubbed “Don’t Say, Gay,” which forbids instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and on lessons deemed to be age-inappropriate. 

Gov. DeSantis is focusing on Disney, who was willing to penalize one of the state’s largest political donors and employers. 

DeSantis is also focusing on election fraud and immigration

In addition to the Disney legislation, DeSantis is using the special session to advance his agenda on election fraud and immigration. 

Lawmakers are anticipated to create the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program in the DeSantis administration to transport migrants around the country if they have been processed already by the federal government. 

The legislation came last year after DeSantis flew around 50 South American migrants from Texas to the Massachusetts resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, using taxpayer funding, in a move that drew widespread condemnation.

The session is expected to give DeSantis a political victory in his fight against Disney. The company said it would pause political donations in Florida and support organizations working to oppose the law. 

Republicans and DeSantis moved quickly to condemn Disney, calling it a dealer of “woke” ideologies that are inappropriate for children.

At the request of DeSantis, the Republican-dominated statehouse in April approved legislation to do away with Disney’s Reedy Creek government by June of 2023 in a process to determine what government structure will control the company’s expansive property. 

The Reedy Creek District’s creation was essential in Disney’s decision to build near Orlando in the 60s when leaders in the company told the state they planned to build a futuristic development — the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, also known as Epcot.

The city was planned to include urban planning innovations and a rapid transit system, so the Disney corporation needed autonomy in the district to decide how to use the land and for building. The city never materialized, but Epcot morphed into a second theme park, opening in 1982.

Having a separate government allows Disney to provide zoning, utilities, infrastructure services, and fire protection on its land while as well as the ability to issue bonds. GOP critics of the district argue the separate government gives Disney a commercial advantage unavailable to others.