Feb 8, 2023
DeSantis Gets Closer to Control of Disney District After Florida House Panel Passes Bill
(Bloomberg) -- A Florida legislative committee advanced a bill that would give Republican Governor Ron DeSantis control over a special government district that’s home to Walt Disney Co., limiting the sweeping powers granted to the entertainment giant for decades.
After about an hour of questions and debate among lawmakers, a majority of the members of the Florida House of Representative’s State Affairs Committee voted to move the legislation forward so it can be considered by the GOP-controlled full chamber.
Read More: DeSantis to Take Control of Disney’s District in New Bill
Much of the debate centered around the decision to allow DeSantis to appoint the five-member board of supervisors overseeing what’s currently known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Some Democrats on the committee, led by Anna Eskamani who represents parts of Orange County, voiced concern about giving the governor such wide authority.
“There is clear consensus that the original board makeup of Reedy Creek was very problematic,” Eskamani, a Democrat, said during the hearing. “We are taking one problematic swamp and creating another swamp by allowing for one person to appoint all five positions.”
The proposed changes are a culmination of a clash between Florida’s governor and one of the state’s largest employers. Last year, DeSantis signed a law that would have dissolved Reedy Creek, which provides municipal functions such as water, infrastructure and emergency services to Walt Disney World Resort. The move was a response by what DeSantis saw as Disney’s criticism of a law he signed that limits elementary school teachings about gender identity. He said the district gave the company powers other businesses did not have.
Currently, board members are elected by local property owners, but given that most of the land within the district is owned by Disney and its affiliates, that gives the company outsized decision powers.
The committee denied a number of amendments proposed by Democratic members to either change the composition of the board or create guidelines on how appointees would be chosen.
The proposed legislation, which is sponsored by Republican Representative Fred Hawkins, keeps in place Reedy Creek’s obligation to almost $1 billion of outstanding bonds and maintains its present revenue streams. The bill text specified that “no bond or other instrument of indebtedness” previously issued by the district will be affected.
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