Florida Lawmakers Unveil Plan For State Control Of Walt Disney World Special District

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Florida lawmakers unveiled a bill on Monday for state control of a special district set up to let The Walt Disney Co. largely self-govern much of the area around Walt Disney World.

The bill, expected to be considered during a special session of the state Legislature this month, would allow Gov. Ron DeSantis to appoint the five board members of the district. The legislation also would rename the Reedy Creek Improvement District to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

The bill (read it here) also calls for the district to continue honoring outstanding debt and will retain powers of taxation. The board members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The bill also prohibits anyone who has been a theme park employee, officer or director in the past three years from serving on the board, along with their relatives.

The district was created by the Legislature in 1967 as Disney prepared to build its theme park on the property. But last year, DeSantis led an effort to dissolve the special district after The Walt Disney Co. came out against his parental rights legislation, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. Democrats and other critics slammed the governor for the move as one of retaliation against the company for taking a public position on the issue, while officials in surrounding counties expressed concern that they would be stuck with around $1 billion in Reedy Creek district debt.

The governor’s staff had said that additional legislation would address concerns before the dissolution of the district, scheduled for June. Under the bill, that wouldn’t happen, but the district would operate under a new name and control.

DeSantis said in a press conference last week, “We’re not going to have a corporation controlling its own government.”

The governor has the votes for state control of the district, just as he had support last year for its dissolution.

A spokesperson for The Walt Disney Co. did not immediately return a request for comment.

The district is set up to oversee such things as land use and infrastructure within its boundaries. Under current law, board members are selected by landowners within the district, meaning that Disney has control over who sits on the body.

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