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DeSantis signs law to strip Disney of power over Reedy Creek

DeSantis was flanked by supporters as he signed the legislation into law.
Amy Green
DeSantis was flanked by supporters as he signed the legislation into law.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced the names of the state board members who will oversee Walt Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The announcement came Monday as DeSantis signed a law to strip Disney of control over the district.

His signature culminates a year-long feud with Disney that began when the entertainment giant spoke out against the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation.

The measure was aimed at limiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for younger students. At the time, DeSantis said he would abolish Reedy Creek.

Instead the legislation he signed appoints a state board to oversee the district. DeSantis says the members wield a diversity of skills, from business to local government.

“We also have people that very much want to see Disney be what Walt envisioned, which is what we all want to do.”

Tampa attorney Martin Garcia is chairman. Members include Bridget Ziegler, a conservative school board member and wife of the Florida Republican party chairman Christian Ziegler.

DeSantis was flanked by supporters as he signed the legislation at the Reedy Creek Fire Station No. 4, on Disney property.

Jon Shirey is president of the Reedy Creek Professional Firefighters, a union. He described the signing as “a historic event.” He says firefighters have lacked resources for basic functions.

“It would seem that keeping Disney’s money in the district’s bank accounts have become more of a priority than protecting and adequately equipping the fire department to respond to the calls and protect the guests here at Disney.”

DeSantis says the action is aimed at holding Disney accountable for entertainment he says is inappropriate for children. He also wants equity for other theme parks and corporations.

The proposed changes had ignited widespread concern about what will happen to Reedy Creek’s considerable bond debt, issued to fund improvements like parking garages.

DeSantis says the legislation ensures that Disney and not local taxpayers will be responsible for the debt.

Others are not so sure. Sen. Linda Stewart, a central Florida Democrat, also characterized DeSantis’ action as a breach of the bounds of his authority.

“Who is next? If someone says something that he doesn’t like, who’s going to have their board removed? And who’s going to get appointments by him? I mean, this just sets the state for others.”

The creation of the self-governing district was instrumental in Disney's decision to build near Orlando in the 1960s. The district let Disney tax itself to build the infrastructure necessary to support the world’s largest single-site tourism attraction.

Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.
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