Florida Gov. DeSantis signs bill eliminating Disney’s self-government, some other special districts

Governor held bill signing in South Florida

Gov. DeSantis signs 3 bills at news conference in South Florida. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that eliminates special districts created before 1968, including Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The governor signed several bills during a ceremony at a South Florida charter school Friday afternoon, including the special districts bill introduced by Rep. Randy Fine. The Reedy Creek Improvement District — created by state lawmakers in 1967 — acts as Walt Disney World’s own government with two cities and land in Orange and Osceola counties.

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Initial conversation on the repeal of the Reedy Creek Improvement District began when Disney spoke out against the signing of the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. As the bill neared DeSantis’ desk earlier in March, multiple protests were organized to call on Disney to do what it could to speak out against the legislation and halt its momentum in the Florida legislature.

DeSantis commented on Disney’s action during Friday’s news conference and said if “none of that had happened, this is the right thing to do,” calling Disney’s government “unlike anything else that we know in the state of Florida.”

“No individual or no company in Florida is treated this way, and it’s not right to have this similar treatment. But you know, they had exercised a lot of power over the years. It was never anything that was debated. In fact, I don’t even know that I knew the name of it prior to this becoming something that was live in the past few months,” he said.

According to the wording of the bill, it will dissolve “any independent special district established by a special act prior to the date of ratification of the Florida Constitution on November 5, 1968 and which was not reestablished, re-ratified, or otherwise reconstituted by a special act or general law after November 5, 1968.”

Although details are far from clear, the proposal could have huge tax implications for Disney. Democratic state lawmakers who oppose the bill also have warned that it could result in homeowners getting hit with big tax bills if they have to absorb costs the company used to pay.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, whose county is partially home to Disney World, said it would be “catastrophic for our budget” if the county had to assume the costs for public safety at the theme park resort. Reedy Creek currently reimburses the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for public safety costs.

Fine said Disney and its Reedy Creek district was not the target of the bill, but Disney “chose to kick the hornet’s nest,” and that led to this legislation.

Disney could reapply with the legislature for its special district; otherwise, it would dissolve in June 2023. The measure does allow for the districts to be reestablished, leaving an avenue to renegotiate its future.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About the Author:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.