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House passes bill revising the special district that governs Disney's property in Central Florida

Image: Disney, Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
A bill passed the Florida House on Thursday that would give the governor the power to appoint the board of a special district governing Walt Disney's World's property near Orlando.

The GOP-controlled Florida House approved a bill Thursday empowering the governor to name the board of the special district that governs Walt Disney World's property in Central Florida.

The bill, House Bill 9B, revises and renames the Reedy Creek Improvement District. It would be called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

HB 9B now goes to the Senate.

GOP Rep. Randy Fine of Brevard County argued for the bill, saying that, on the one hand, its not a big deal because the powers of the district remain largely the same.

"But it is a huge deal," he added, "because we are eliminating something that no other citizen, no other company as far as I know in the United States has — a company that has the right to govern itself."

An amendment by Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orlando would have given local governments control of the district. It failed to pass.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature first moved against Disney last year, after it opposed the controversial Parental Rights in Education Act — what critics call the "Don't Say Gay" bill — which bans instruction in early grades about gay and transgender people.

Eskamani says the current bill is "cancel culture" with an "authoritarian, Darth Vader-like grip."

Her fellow Democrat Rep. Rita Harris of Orlando said: "This bill sends a message that -- from the governor to businesses in our state -- that if they dissent, they will be punished. And this is chilling. It's not just chilling to me, it's chilling freedom of speech."

Rep. Fred Hawkins, R-St. Cloud, sponsored HB 9B. He said the Legislature is correcting a mistake Democratic lawmakers made in a special session in 1967 when they created the special district.

Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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