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DeSantis appointees begin reshaping Disney World's government district

New board members are proposing to eliminate a planning board and prohibit mask mandates and COVID-19 vaccine requirements, among other things.
People visit the Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort
Posted at 10:08 AM, Apr 19, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' appointees on Wednesday began trying to reshape Disney World's governing body with proposals to eliminate a planning board and prohibit mask mandates and COVID-19 vaccine requirements in an evolving showdown between the Republican governor and the world's best-known entertainment company.

The five new board members of the governing body, which had been controlled by Disney up until February, had on their meeting agenda rules prohibiting anyone from being barred from its offices for not wearing a face mask or not having the COVID-19 vaccine. Also, the agenda includes a resolution asserting the board's "superior authority" over the district that covers Disney World's 27,000 acres, including two minuscule cities.

The agenda also pointed to a potential shakeup of the administration's staff with job descriptions listed for the governing body's administrator and other key staff positions.

Robert (Bob) Iger, Disney's CEO.

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Disney World required masks and had social distancing protocols in place in 2020 when it reopened after closing for several months in an effort to stop COVID-19's spread. DeSantis has been a fierce opponent of virus mask and vaccine mandates and has petitioned the state Supreme Court to convene a grand jury to investigate "any and all wrongdoing" with respect to the COVID-19 vaccines.

Wednesday's meeting agenda continued a battle pitting prospective presidential candidate DeSantis and Republican state lawmakers against Disney that started last year when the entertainment giant publicly opposed what critics call the state's "Don't Say Gay" legislation barring school instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. In retaliation, Florida lawmakers passed, and DeSantis signed, legislation reorganizing Disney World's company-controlled government, allowing the governor to appoint the five members of the Board of Supervisors. Disney previously had controlled the board for its 55-year existence.

Last month, the new DeSantis appointees claimed their Disney-controlled predecessors pulled a fast one by stripping the new board of most powers and giving Disney control over design and construction at the theme park resort before the new members could take their seats.

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DeSantis and state lawmakers at a news conference on Monday ratcheted up the pressure even further, proposing upcoming legislation which would require state inspections of Disney rides, an unprecedented move since Florida's largest theme park operators have been able to conduct their own inspections. The lawmakers also planned to consider a measure that would revoke the agreement between previous the board supervisors and Disney.

Republican State Sen. Blaise Ingoglia said he had a message for Disney: "You are not going to win this fight. This governor is."

Disney has said all agreements made with the previous board were legal and approved in a public forum.

Disney CEO Bob Iger earlier this month said that any actions against the company that threaten jobs or expansion at its Florida resort was not only "anti-business" but "anti-Florida."