TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida House Lawmakers in Tallahassee passed a bill Thursday that will change the governing body that runs Walt Disney World property in the latest chapter of the fight between Florida Gov. DeSantis and Walt Disney World.
The full Florida House approved HB 9B Thursday afternoon on a party-line 82 to 31 vote. It renames and revises the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special taxing district that oversees Disney’s property in Orange and Osceola counties.
The Florida Senate will likely approve the bill Friday.
The bill would rename the RCID the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and instead of a governing body appointed by the Walt Disney Company, DeSantis would appoint the board’s five members. The Florida Senate would have to confirm the appointed members.
The revamped district would still have wide-ranging authority to levy property taxes, oversee water and sewer systems, roads, parking, a fire department and other infrastructure, and issue bonds to pay for projects.
The bill passed the Florida House State Affairs Committee Wednesday intact with a 13-3 vote, despite attempts to amend the bill, including an amendment to include representatives from Orlando and Orange County on the board.
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The Reedy Creek Improvement District was created in the 1960s to give Disney the power to manage its property and fast-track permits for construction as needed.
However, last year the Florida Legislature voted to dissolve the RCID in retribution for Disney’s criticism of the Parental Rights in Education law, known by critics as the Don’t Say Gay law.
That sparked immediate concerns that any dissolution of the RCID would saddle Orange and Osceola taxpayers with a billion dollars in debt from the bonds issued to pay for the district, along with the costs of running the infrastructure for Disney World.
DeSantis insisted the dissolution would not leave taxpayers on the hook and that Disney would pay its debts.
While House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, says this bill puts Disney on a level playing field with other theme parks in the area, Disney would still be able to operate under its own district, subject to the district’s governance, rather than rely on the governments in Orange and Osceola counties. The district would still have much of the same powers it was actively using.
Democrats who attempted to make changes to the bill slammed Republicans Wednesday for trying to frame the issue as being about corporate accountability and not about Disney’s criticism of Republican policies.
Florida House Republicans just approved the hostile takeover of Reedy Creek and admitted that the district still keeps all of the same tax perks. It was never about corporate accountability and always about trying to punish Disney for defending LGBTQ+ people.— Rep. Anna V. Eskamani 🔨 (@AnnaForFlorida) February 9, 2023
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