Self government

Florida Governor DeSantis signs bill eliminating Disney self-government and certain other special districts

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Florida. –Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a bill that eliminates special districts created before 1968, including Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The governor signed several bills into law during a ceremony at a South Florida charter school on Friday afternoon, including the special districts bill introduced by Rep. Randy Fine. The Reedy Creek Improvement District – created by state legislators in 1967 – acts as Walt Disney World’s own government with two towns and lands in Orange and Osceola counties.

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The initial conversation about repealing the Reedy Creek Improvement District began when Disney spoke out against signing the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. As the bill approached DeSantis’ desk earlier in March, multiple protests were held calling on Disney to do what it could to speak out against the legislation and halt its momentum in the Florida legislature.

DeSantis commented on Disney’s action at Friday’s press conference and said that while “none of this happened, it’s the right thing to do,” calling Disney’s government “unlike to everything we know in the state of Florida.”

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“No individual or business in Florida is treated this way, and it’s not fair to have this similar treatment. But you know, they had wielded a lot of power over the years. It was never something that was debated. In fact, I don’t even know if I even knew the name of it before it became something that was live for the past few months,” he said.

According to the wording of the bill, it will dissolve “any independent special district established by special statute prior to the date of ratification of the Constitution of Florida on November 5, 1968, and which has not been reinstated, re-ratified, or otherwise reconstituted by a special law or a general law subsequent to November 5, 1968.

Although the details are far from clear, the proposal could have huge tax implications for Disney. Democratic state lawmakers who oppose the bill have also warned that it could result in hefty tax bills for owners if they had to absorb the costs the company used to pay.

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Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, whose county is partly home to Disney World, said it would be “catastrophic to our budget” if the county had to bear the cost of public safety at the theme park. Reedy Creek is currently reimbursing the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for public safety costs.

Fine said Disney and its Reedy Creek District were not the target of the bill, but Disney “chose to kick the hornet’s nest” leading to this legislation.

Disney could reapply to the legislature for its special district; otherwise, it would disband in June 2023. The measure allows for the reinstatement of the districts, leaving room to renegotiate its future.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera