TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Senate voted Wednesday to eliminate Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, backing Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to punish the theme park and entertainment giant.
This comes after DeSantis announced Tuesday that the current special legislative session would take up a plan to eradicate six special districts enacted before 1968, including Walt Disney World’s own government which spans two counties.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted to move forward with S.B. 4C, which was originally filed by Sen. Jennifer Bradley. A companion bill, H.B. 3C, was filed in the House by State Rep. Randy Fine of Brevard County after Disney “chose to kick the hornet’s nest” and condemn DeSantis’ parental rights in education law, more colloquially known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
The special session seeks to dissolve six out of 1,844 total special districts.
Of the six districts affected, Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District is the largest, impacting 25,000 acres in both Orange and Osceola counties.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said he believes the bill is motivated by “the politics of the day” and fears if it passes, taxpayers in his jurisdiction will feel its effects since Disney’s municipal services have been historically self-contained.
“That has worked to the benefit of all Orange County residents because that has not been a tax burden to all of our residents,” Demings said.
Members of the Reedy Creek Fire Department are required to always be on alert in case of an emergency anywhere on Disney property. With the push to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, their union said many have been worried about what the changes might mean for them.
Wayne Bernoska, president of the Florida Professional Firefighters, said their organization is working to make sure lawmakers are aware of the concerns Reedy Creek firefighters have.
“They are as professional as they get as any other agency. They are not Disney employees. They are Reedy Creek employees. They are members of the Florida retirement system in their retirements,” Bernoska said. “As we sit here today, there’s more unknown than known obviously because this issue popped up a few days ago.”
Bernoska said it is their understanding that a final decision would not be made until June 2023, which means 14 months of uncertainty.
“Some of our fears have been calmed by knowing there will be a process. We will be a part of that and we will be able to verbalize and stand before the Florida Legislature to voice our concerns,” Bernoska said.
The House State Affairs Committee voted Tuesday night along party lines to pass H.B. 3C along to the full house vote Thursday after a heated debate ensued on either side of the aisle.
“This bill is very frightening, it is extremely frightening because we all know that this bill is political retribution,” State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-District 49, said. “You speak out, if you have an opinion about what’s happening here in the Florida legislature.... you will be punished.”
Fine, the Republican representative who initially introduced the bill, said it would give Orange and Osceola counties the opportunity to exercise power previously denied by the state, but ultimately its target is clear.
“I will say this, you got me on one thing. This bill does target one company. It targets the Walt Disney Company,” Fine said.
The House is scheduled to officially vote on the bill Thursday.