The Florida House of Representatives has passed a bill that aims to nullify an agreement between Disney and the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The power of the newly appointed state board was undermined by the agreement. Florida lawmakers have passed a bill that would void Disney’s development agreement with the former Reedy Creek Improvement District, and it is expected that Governor Ron DeSantis will sign it. The bill prohibits special districts from complying with agreements executed within three months of a law being passed changing how a district’s board members are selected. The bill passed the Florida Senate with a 27-13 margin and the Florida House with a 75-34 margin. The House bill includes a provision that prohibits the district from complying with the development agreement. Disney is suing DeSantis and the board, citing a “relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials.” DeSantis and Florida Republicans have also suggested that the state will take control of inspections for Disney’s rides, as the company is allowed to inspect its own rides under a carveout in state law that allows that for theme parks with more than 1,000 employees and in-house inspectors.
The battle between DeSantis and Disney began in March 2022 when Disney opposed the state’s Parental Rights in Education law, known by critics as “Don’t Say Gay.” The state initially took aim at Disney by getting rid of its special district altogether, before backtracking and enacting legislation that just renamed the district to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and replaced the board with DeSantis appointees. Reedy Creek had been overseeing Walt Disney World since the 1960s, functioning in a similar fashion to county governments and overseeing infrastructure, like road improvements, utilities, waste management, building permits, and emergency services. Although the special district operates independently from Disney, the company holds significant power due to its ownership of a large portion of the district’s land, even having the ability to elect members to the district’s board who previously worked for Disney. After DeSantis’ new board stumbled upon the development agreement, Republicans launched fresh assaults on Disney, which paved the way for the approval of new legislation on Wednesday. Additionally, the board has taken more assertive measures to gain authority over Disney’s property.
Disney has filed a lawsuit against the Florida governor, saying “a targeted campaign of government retaliation—orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech—now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.” The loss of Disney would devastate the economy in Orlando and Florida. In 2019, a study indicated that Disney had an economic impact of $75.2 billion annually on Central Florida.
The battle between DeSantis and Disney has also led to legislation that would give the state oversight power for the monorail system at Walt Disney World Resort. Republicans have stated that the bill is essential in providing state oversight, which has been absent, and they have referenced the 2009 incident where a Disney employee lost their life in a monorail accident. The Democrats opposed the bill, claiming that the monorail has been used by millions of people in the last decade without any issues and that the bill is simply an attempt to further target Disney.
Disney argues that the agreement complied with the law, and all agreements signed between Disney and the district were appropriate and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law. Representative Toby Overdorf, a member of the Republican Party, argued that Disney did not use their intelligence to outmaneuver the governor but instead violated the law.
The battle between DeSantis and Disney has led to a significant amount of uncertainty for the company and its employees in Florida. The company is a major employer in the state and generates billions of dollars in revenue for the local economy. As the legal battle continues, it remains to be seen what the future holds for Disney in Florida.
0. “Florida House passes bill empowering DeSantis-appointed board to revoke Disney agreement” Washington Examiner, 3 May. 2023, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/florida-passes-bill-empowering-desantis-board-revoke-disney-agreement
1. “Florida House Passes Land Use Bill to Void Disney and Reedy Creek Development Agreement” WDW News Today, 3 May. 2023, https://wdwnt.com/2023/05/florida-house-passes-land-use-bill-to-void-disney-and-reedy-creek-development-agreement/
2. “Florida Lawmakers Pass Bill To Void Walt Disney World’s Development Agreement With Special District” Yahoo Entertainment, 3 May. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/florida-lawmakers-pass-bill-void-183531247.html
3. “Florida Lawmakers Pass More Bills Targeting Disney Amid Legal Fight” Forbes, 4 May. 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisondurkee/2023/05/04/florida-lawmakers-pass-more-bills-targeting-disney-amid-legal-fight
4. “🌱 Disney Battle Continues With Florida Government + Ruths Chris Sold” Patch, 4 May. 2023, https://patch.com/florida/orlando/disney-battle-continues-florida-government-ruths-chris-sold
5. “House supports nullifying contract with Disney’s old governing board” Florida Politics, 3 May. 2023, https://floridapolitics.com/archives/609419-house-supports-nullifying-contract-with-disneys-old-governing-board
6. “Florida House Passes Bill Voiding Disney’s Land Development Agreement” Laughing Place, 4 May. 2023, https://www.laughingplace.com/w/news/2023/05/04/florida-house-passes-bill-voiding-disneys-land-development-agreement/
7. “Florida House of Representatives Passes Bill That Gives Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Authority to …” DAPS MAGIC, 3 May. 2023, https://dapsmagic.com/2023/05/florida-house-of-representatives-passes-bill-that-gives-central-florida-tourism-oversight-district-authority-to-overturn-reedy-creek-contracts/