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Florida to place leadership of Disney’s special operating district under DeSantis’ control

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans to reform public universities by banning “critical race theory” and investing millions of dollars in Sarasota’s New College.
James A. Jones Jr | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

Florida lawmakers have approved a bill that makes changes to Disney

Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law.

The new legislation, which overrides an earlier proposal to dissolve the district entirely, will keep the region’s key operational procedures intact. One of those procedures concerns the district’s ability to raise taxes and issue bonds to build and maintain infrastructure serving the Walt Disney World Resort.

“In terms of the day-to-day operation of the district, it doesn’t look like much is going to change,” said Aubrey Jewett, associate professor and assistant school director at the University of Central Florida.

The biggest change: DeSantis will now be able to appoint the district’s five board members, subject to state Senate approval. Previously, Disney had de facto control of the board as the district’s largest landowner.

DeSantis has sought greater authority over the district in the wake of his squabble with Disney. The governor’s actions were motivated in part by the media and entertainment giant expressing objections to DeSantis’ bill to restrict teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity to students in the state from kindergarten to third grade.

And the district will be renamed: From the Reedy Creek Special Improvement District to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

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DeSantis’ administration has called the new legislation necessary, saying in a statement that the district had historically “gifted extraordinary special privileges to a single corporation.”

“Until Governor DeSantis acted, the Walt Disney Company maintained sole control over the District,” a spokesman for the governor said in a statement. “This power amounted to an unaccountable Corporate Kingdom. Florida is dissolving the Corporate Kingdom and beginning a new era of accountability and transparency.”

Disney is monitoring the legislation, Jeff Vahle, 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,” Vahle said.

Disney recently announced the layoffs of 7,000 employees as part of a broad restructuring. But construction still appears to be progressing on a Disney office campus in Lake Nona, roughly 20 miles east of Disney World. According to the Orlando Business Journal, Disney recently filed a zoning application for a master plan for the campus, which is slated to house 2,000 jobs.

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