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Governor DeSantis Signs Law Stripping Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District of Self-Governing Powers

On Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law that strips Walt Disney World's Reedy Creek Improvement District of its self-governing powers. The district was established in 1967, allowing Disney to act like its own government, controlling land use, fire prevention, and other infrastructure decisions at its Florida theme parks.[0] The law, formally known as the Parental Rights in Education Act, bans instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, although it does contain nebulous language that such instruction in higher grades must be “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”[1]

The move comes amid a months-long feud between DeSantis and Disney after the company, under then-Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek, opposed the state’s Parental Rights in Education measure.[2] According to DeSantis, Chapek “caved” to the “leftist media” and activist pressure, and accused Disney of escalating the situation by vowing to help fight it in the courts.[2] DeSantis advocated for a bill to revoke the special district which enabled Disney to be in charge of land usage and other infrastructure decisions in its parks in Florida.

Now, the district is renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and the governor will have the power to appoint the members to its board.[3] The governor has chosen Bridget Ziegler, a member of the Sarasota County School Board and a Moms for Liberty supporter, Seminole County lawyer Michael Sasso, Tampa attorney Martin Garcia to serve as chairman, Ron Peri, head of The Gathering USA, a faith and culture ministry, and Clearwater lawyer Brian Aungst for the board.[4]

But questions were still left unanswered about how the district would run, including how to pay off Reedy Creek's nearly $1 billion in debt.[5] The district will still have to take responsibility for its bond debt under the new legislation.[6]

DeSantis’ move has drawn criticism from fellow Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence, who told CNBC, “Disney stepped into the fray.[7] They lost.[5] But the idea of going after their taxing authority, that was beyond the scope of what I as a conservative limited government Republican would be prepared to do.[8]

0. “Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at Walt Disney World signs bill to end Disney's self-governing status signaling the end …” wdwmagic.com, 27 Feb. 2023, https://www.wdwmagic.com/other/walt-disney-company/news/27feb2023-florida-governor-ron-desantis-at-walt-disney-world-signs-bill-to-end-disneys-self-governing-status-signaling-the-end-of-reedy-creek.htm

1. “Disney’s Reedy Creek district approves $176M project” Orlando Business Journal , 24 Feb. 2023, https://www.bizjournals.com/orlando/news/2023/02/24/florida-disney-reedy-creek-world-drive-project.html

2. “Ron DeSantis Says Ex Disney CEO Bob Chapek Felt ‘Pressured’ to Condemn ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill” IndieWire, 27 Feb. 2023, https://www.indiewire.com/2023/02/ron-desantis-bob-chapek-felt-pressured-condemn-dont-say-gay-1234813910/

3. “DeSantis signs bill stripping Disney's self-governing status” WPLG Local 10, 27 Feb. 2023, https://www.local10.com/news/florida/2023/02/27/desantis-signs-bill-stripping-disneys-self-governing-status/

4. “DeSantis signs law stripping Disney World of Reedy Creek control” Orlando Sentinel, 27 Feb. 2023, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/politics/os-ne-desantis-disney-reedy-creek-law-signed-20230227-mbhn25a2fnfnflmooos4tzd2eq-story.html

5. “Ron DeSantis takes over Disney special district over ‘Don't Say Gay'” Business Insider, 27 Feb. 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/ron-desantis-control-disney-world-special-district-dont-say-gay-2023-2

6. “Makeover of Disney’s special district is complete as DeSantis appoints new board” Miami Herald, 27 Feb. 2023, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article272614233.html

7. “Ron DeSantis Signs Law That Strips Disney Of Control Of Special District Covering Florida Theme Parks” Deadline, 27 Feb. 2023, https://deadline.com/2023/02/ron-desantis-disney-florida-reedy-creek-special-district-1235272903

8. “DeSantis Signs Bill to Take Control of Disney's Special District” National Review, 27 Feb. 2023, https://www.nationalreview.com/news/desantis-signs-bill-to-take-control-of-disneys-special-district