Reedy Creek board meets amid Florida special session on Disney district

Bill approved by State Affairs Committee would give Florida control of district

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Reedy Creek Improvement District board met Wednesday morning amid a special session that could give Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis control over the Disney district.

The special session began Monday to restructure the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the Disney government is known.

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A bill introduced that same day would largely leave the district and its abilities intact but change its name to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and require the governor to appoint a five-member oversight board. Members previously were named through entities controlled by Disney.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District bill passed in the State Affairs Committee with only one of eight proposed amendments being approved. That amendment was by Rep. Fred Hawkins, which dealt with property descriptions.

Here’s what’s included in the bill:

  • The district will not be dissolved, but it will instead be continued under a new name on June 1
  • That name will be the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District
  • The board of supervisors will be the governing body and have controlling authority
  • The governor will appoint five board members, who will have to be confirmed by the state Senate

As of Wednesday, eight amendments have been filed in total — six of which are from Rep. Anna Eskamani, who represents part of Orange County.

One of her amendments calls for there to be seven members on the district’s board of supervisors instead of the five that would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

Her amendment also calls for four of the spots to be held by the following people: the mayor of Orange County, the mayor of Orlando, the chair of the Osceola County Board of County Commissioners and the mayor of Kissimmee.

She has another amendment specifying that the district administrator should be someone that has not held elected office in the last ten years and cannot be someone that has made any political contributions to the governor.

“I want to ensure that these positions of authority are not just leveraged as political favors,” Eskamani said.

Monday’s meeting was the latest development in a high-profile feud between DeSantis and Disney over the state’s Parental Rights in Education Law, which bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and lessons deemed not age-appropriate.

The governor, in going after Disney, displayed a willingness to penalize one of the state’s biggest employers and political donors, reinforcing the combative leadership style that has propelled him to national political stardom and appeals to conservative primary voters.

The session is expected to deliver DeSantis a political victory in his fight against Disney, a squabble that began last year when the entertainment giant publicly opposed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The company said it would pause political donations in the state and support organizations working to oppose the law.

At DeSantis’ request, the GOP-dominated statehouse in April approved legislation to eliminate Disney’s Reedy Creek government by June 2023, beginning a closely watched process that would determine the structure of government that controls the company’s sprawling property.

Having a separate government allows the Disney government to issue bonds and provide zoning, fire protection, utilities and infrastructure services on its land. Republican critics of the district argue it gives Disney a commercial advantage unavailable to others.

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About the Authors:

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