After Senate Republicans approved a bill, Walt Disney World’s self-governing district is going into Ron DeSantis’ hands
TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Walt Disney World’s self-governing district will soon be run by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. This is because Senate Republicans on Friday passed a bill punishing the company for its opposition to the law that critics call “Don’t Say Gay.”
The bill, which is now waiting for the governor’s signature, would require DeSantis to choose a five-member board to oversee the government services the district gives to the company’s huge properties in Florida.
The vote on the Disney bill ended a special legislative session that was focused on the conservative goals of a governor who has used national political tensions to become a national GOP star and possible White House candidate.
The hastily called and finished session also showed that DeSantis was willing to use the Republican supermajority in the statehouse to achieve his political goals. This is a strategy he will continue to use in the coming months as he prepares to run for president.
The Disney district takeover started last year when Disney spoke out against “Don’t Say Gay.” “Don’t Say Gay” bans teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as well as other lessons that aren’t right for that age group.
DeSantis tried to punish the company by telling lawmakers to get rid of the district during a special legislative session in April. This started a closely watched process of restructuring.
Last week, the Republican leaders of the House and Senate, along with the governor, told lawmakers to come back for another special session to finish taking over the district from the state.
Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart said Friday, before the bill was passed, that it seems like this is all the governor’s way of getting back at Disney for saying it supports the LGBTQ community.
The bill also changes the name of the district from the Reedy Creek Improvement District to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and gives the state more control over it. At the moment, board members are chosen by Disney-owned companies.
The bill doesn’t change the district’s finances or debts, which was one of the biggest worries of the governments around it. It also says that people who have worked for or done business with a theme park in the last three years can’t be on the new board that runs the district.
Since the district has its own government, it can sell bonds and offer services like zoning, fire protection, utilities, and infrastructure on its land. Republicans who don’t like the district say that it gives Disney a business advantage that no one else has.
“This bill brought an old district up to date and made it more modern, “Republican Rep. Fred Hawkins, who pushed for the bill, said this. “It took away rights that no company should have to be able to build something that gives it an unfair advantage over its competitors.
In the 1960s, the creation of the district helped the company decide to build near Orlando.
Officials from Disney told the state that they wanted to build a futuristic city with a transit system and new ideas for city planning. Because of this, the company needed the freedom to build and decide how to use the land. The city of the future never happened. Instead, it became a second theme park that opened in 1982.
Separately on Friday, Republicans in the House gave final approval to two bills that make small changes to important DeSantis plans on immigration and voter fraud. The plans will become laws when the governor signs them.
One bill is meant to stop a legal challenge to the governor’s migrant relocation program, which began last year when DeSantis used taxpayer money to fly a group of South American migrants from Texas to the liberal enclave resort island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Legal questions were raised because the government paid for the flight with money that was meant to get rid of migrants in Florida, not migrants in any other state.
The law sets up a program in the governor’s office to move migrants and says that in the future, migrants could be moved by plane from anywhere in the U.S. The measure makes it more likely that DeSantis will make more trips as he continues to criticize federal border policy on his way to a likely run for president in 2024.
Republicans have said over and over that the bill would help migrants by sending them to cities and states with “sanctuary” laws. Democrats, on the other hand, have called the program a political stunt meant to help the governor reach his political goals.
The other plan is to give the governor’s election police unit more prosecutorial power by making it clear in state law that the statewide prosecutor has the power to go after election crimes in both federal and state races.
Republican Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin said, “This makes sure that fraud will be looked into and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, as it should be.”
Judges have thrown out some cases involving the election police unit because they said the statewide prosecutor did not have the power to bring charges.
Last year, DeSantis pushed lawmakers to make the election police unit to address concerns among Republicans about voter fraud. These concerns have grown since former President Donald Trump said that his reelection was stolen, which is not true.
The unit is part of the governor’s department of state. A special group of state police officers looks into fraud claims and does preliminary investigations.
Democrats have said that the purpose of the unit is to stop people from voting and that it is not needed because local prosecutors can look into voter fraud and charge people for it.
Rep. Dianne Hart, a Democrat, said, “This is a fear tactic and it’s voter suppression, plain and simple.”
The bills will become laws when DeSantis signs them. Early in March, lawmakers will be back in Tallahassee for their regular legislative session. At that time, they are likely to approve another set of DeSantis’ priorities on guns, education, the death penalty, and abortion.