Florida Gov. DeSantis signs bill to void Reedy Creek development agreement with Disney

Disney lawsuit against DeSantis still making its way through federal courts

FILE - (AP Photo/John Raoux, File) (John Raoux, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis has thrown the latest punch in his ongoing feud with Florida’s largest employer, Walt Disney World, by signing a bill aimed at voiding the former Reedy Creek Improvement District’s development deal with the theme park and media giant.

DeSantis signed the bill, SB 1604, on Friday. The bill went to the governor’s desk after it cleared the state Senate on Thursday in a 27 to 13 vote along party lines.

The new measure by the Florida Legislature is essentially tailor-made to allow the new board to sidestep the agreement. It would preclude any independent special district with a newly-remade governing body from following a development agreement that was made three months before the law that changed the way the district’s governing body was chosen. You can read the measure here.

Then the measure allows the board to review the agreement and decide whether to readopt it. This must be done within four months of taking control of the district.

The new law officially takes effect on July 1.

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This all comes as a response to a deal RCID made with Disney that was put into effect on Feb. 8 which essentially gave Disney full control over the development of the land within the special district, essentially stripping power from DeSantis’ board before it even formed.

The tourism oversight board, for its part, also voted in April to give itself “superior authority” over the district, including Lake Buena Vista, where the district is headquartered, and Bay Lake in a bid to overturn the deal made by the RCID with Disney.

Disney responded by filing a lawsuit against DeSantis and the state in federal court, claiming it was the target of political retribution for speaking out against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics, back in March 2022 when Bob Chapek was still CEO.

The tourism oversight board then retaliated with its own lawsuit against Disney. The suit claims the agreements with Disney “reek of a backroom deal.” The previous board members failed to give proper notice about the agreements, lacked the authority to make them, unlawfully delegated governmental authority to a private entity and the agreements are unenforceable under Florida law, according to the suit.

In addition to the new development provisions in SB 1604, the state also recently passed SB 1250, which will apply Department of Transportation safety standards to monorail lines that connect Walt Disney World resorts and parks.

The plan would require audits, compliance reports conducted every three years and an annual onsite evaluation.

Disney and other large theme parks conduct their own safety inspections because of a carve-out from oversight by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The department inspects amusement park rides except at facilities or parks that have more than 1,000 employees and full-time inspectors on staff.

The Disney monorail system, opened in 1971, covers nearly 15 miles and handles more than 50 million passengers a year, according to the company. The monorail cars were last updated in 1989.

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About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.