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Why is Gov. DeSantis ending Disney's special status?

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday that takes control of a local government that Disney has essentially controlled since the 1960s.
Exterior of Walt Disney World.
Posted at 10:39 AM, Feb 28, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that he has signed a bill that eliminates Disney’s self-governing status within the state. 

The legislation effectively strips Disney of its control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The district was created in 1967 and given the same governing power as a county government. It was part of an agreement between Disney and the state to develop 38.5 square miles of largely uninhabited pasture and swamp land into one of the world’s largest tourist attractions. 

The district provides its own fire department, police force and other municipal services. 

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What is the Reedy Creek Improvement District?

It gave landowners within the district the ability to run their own county government. Since Disney is the primary landowner within the district, it has the largest say on how the government operates. 

In addition to providing basic safety and municipal services, it can collect its own taxes and set its own zoning laws. That means Disney had broad power inside the district. 

A five-member board of supervisors, elected by landowners, governs the district. 

Why is DeSantis taking it over?

DeSantis is arguing that a private company is not accountable to the public, and thus should have the same regulations as other companies. He said the previous arrangement gave Disney “preferential treatment.”

“Allowing a corporation to control its own government is bad policy, especially when the corporation makes decisions that impact an entire region,” said DeSantis. “This legislation ends Disney’s self-governing status, makes Disney live under the same laws as everybody else, and ensures that Disney pays its debts and fair share of taxes.”

Tensions between Disney and DeSantis rose last year when the company spoke out against the Parental Rights in Education bill. The legislation passed in 2022 placed limits on discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms. Opponents dubbed the legislation the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 

Bob Chapek, CEO of Disney at the time, spoke against the Parental Rights in Education bill amid protests from workers. 

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What happens next?

DeSantis has appointed a five-member board of his own for the new state-controlled district. The five conservative members of the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District will take office June 1, pending Florida Senate confirmation. 

This group will essentially be tasked with forming a new municipal government.