(CNN) — A bill to wind down Disney’s special governing powers in Central Florida would put the company’s Orlando-area theme parks under the oversight of a board that will be hand-picked by Gov. Ron DeSantis, giving the Republican executive new authority over the state’s largest employer and his recent political foe.
The move to take over Reedy Creek is the latest step in an ongoing act of political retribution by DeSantis, who sparred with Disney last year over a bill to restrict certain classroom instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity. DeSantis signed the bill into law over the objections of Disney’s then-CEO, Bob Chapek, and then pushed lawmakers to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the 55-year-old government body that effectively gave Disney control of the land around its Florida properties.
Lawmakers returned to Tallahassee on Monday for a special session called in part to address what happens after Reedy Creek is no more. But instead of ending the district, the proposed legislation would instead rebrand it as the “Central Florida Tourism Oversight District” and curb some of its powers, including the ability to build an airport or a nuclear power plant. The board, previously made up of Reedy Creek landowners with close ties to Disney, will instead become a five-member board of supervisors, all appointed by the governor. The state Senate, where Republicans hold a super majority, would have final approval of the appointees.
None of the appointees can be recent Disney employees or their relatives, nor that of a competitor, according to the bill.
The bill, introduced Monday by state Rep. Fred Hawkins, also seeks to limit the damage that could be done to Disney, one of the state’s most vital tourism engines, and to taxpayers. The measure guarantees that the changes to Reedy Creek will not affect the district’s existing debt, previously estimated at about $1 billion, or any other contracts. Local governments last year expressed concern that dissolving Reedy Creek could lead to a debt bomb for Orange and Osceola county residents.
On the second page of the 189-page bill, it states: “No bond or other instrument of indebtedness previously issued by the district or any district project financed by bonds or other instruments of indebtedness shall be affected by this act. The provisions of this act shall not affect existing contracts that the district entered into prior to the effective date of this act. The provisions of this act shall be liberally construed in favor of avoiding any events of default or breach under outstanding bonds or other instruments of indebtedness or the district’s existing and legally valid contracts.”
Disney said Monday it is watching the bill. “We are monitoring the progression of the draft legislation, which is complex given the long history of the Reedy Creek Improvement District,” Jeff Vahle, the president of Walt Disney World Resort, said in a statement. “Disney works under a number of different models and jurisdictions around the world, and regardless of the outcome, we remain committed to providing the highest quality experience for the millions of guests who visit each year.”
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