A new Florida bill would give the governor control of Disney’s district of government

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Governor Ron DeSantis would take control of the board of a special government district that operates Walt Disney World in Florida under a bill introduced Monday, as the Republican governor punishes the company for its opposition to the so-called “Don’ Ley Di Gay”.

Republican leaders in the state house, in coordination with DeSantis, began a special legislative session to restructure the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as Disney’s government is known.

The proposal would leave the district and its capabilities largely intact, but would change its name to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and require the governor to appoint a five-member oversight board. Previously, members were appointed through entities controlled by Disney.

Lawmakers are also considering a proposal to create a state department focused on migrant transportation, after the governor brought a group of South American migrants from Texas to Massachusetts last year in protest of federal border policy.

The session continues DeSantis’ focus on social issues, including sexual orientation, gender and immigration, as the Republican governor grapples with political divisions on his path to a potential 2024 presidential run.

The meeting is the latest development in a high-profile dispute between DeSantis and Disney over the company’s criticism of a law dubbed by critics as “Don’t Say Gay,” which bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten. infants through third grade and lessons deemed not age appropriate.

The governor, in going after Disney, showed his willingness to penalize one of the state’s largest employers and political donors, reinforcing the combative leadership style that has propelled him to national political stardom and appeals to conservative primary voters.

A Reedy Creek spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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

Lawmakers are expected to create the Unauthorized Alien Transportation Program in the governor’s administration to transport migrants within the country if they have been processed by the federal government.

The legislation comes after DeSantis last year used part of a $12 million fund, paid for by taxpayers, to bring about 50 South American immigrants from Texas to the Massachusetts resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, drawing condemnation. widespread.

The flight also raised legal issues because the governor’s office paid for the trip with money intended to transport the immigrants out of Florida, not Texas or any other state. The bill that lawmakers will consider specifies that future flights could move migrants from anywhere in the US.

Another proposal expected to pass during the session would improve the state attorney’s ability to bring charges for election crimes, a move intended to strengthen the power of the governor’s new election police force.

Last year, DeSantis pushed lawmakers to create a law enforcement unit focused on election crimes, addressing another concern of conservative voters after the 2020 election. But in the months since, some of the Unit charges have been thrown out by judges due to jurisdictional issues.

The session is expected to hand DeSantis a political victory in his fight against Disney, a dispute that began last year when the entertainment giant publicly opposed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The company said it would stop political donations in the state and support organizations working to oppose the law.

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

At DeSantis’s request, the GOP-dominated state house in April passed legislation to remove Disney’s Reedy Creek government by June 2023, beginning a closely monitored process that would determine the governance structure that controls the sprawling property. of the company.

The creation of the Reedy Creek district was instrumental in Disney’s decision to build near Orlando in the 1960s, when company leaders told the state they planned to build a futuristic city: the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, also known as Epcot.

The proposed city would include a rapid transit system and urban planning innovations, so Disney needed district autonomy to build and decide how to use the land, they said. The futuristic city never materialized, and instead Epcot was transformed into a second theme park, opening in 1982.

Having a separate government allows the Disney government to issue bonds and provide zoning, fire protection, utilities, and infrastructure services on their land. Republican critics of the district argue that it gives Disney a business advantage not available to others.

The special session will also adjust language in current laws that address sponsorship agreements for college athletes.

Florida was one of the first states to pass a law that allows college athletes to benefit from their name, image or likeness, but does not allow people affiliated with colleges to help secure endorsement deals. The proposal would remove that provision to make Florida more competitive with other states that do not have the restriction.

Lawmakers will also consider a bill to provide more relief money for recovery efforts from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole.

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