Florida bill revoking Disney's self-governing status heads to DeSantis' desk

Under HB 9B, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which houses Disney World, will be renamed the 'Central Florida Tourism Oversight District' and be run by a state board appointed by the governor

The Florida legislature has approved a plan to replace Walt Disney World's special self-governing power with a state-run board whose members will be appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled state Senate voted 26-9 to approve the bill, HB 9B, while the Republican majority in the House voted 82-31 in favor of stripping Disney of its self-governing power. The bill will now be presented to DeSantis for his signature, and he is expected to sign it, revoking Disney's privileges after the company took a public stand against the Parental Rights in Education Act, which detractors misleadingly labeled the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Under HB 9B, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which houses Disney World, will be renamed the "Central Florida Tourism Oversight District." Its government will be released with a 5-member board filled by the governor. None of the members of the oversight board can be recent Disney employees or have had a contractual relationship with the theme park within the past three years.

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DeSantis ushered the bill through a special session of the Florida legislature, which he called in order to enact several of his legislative priorities ahead of an expected 2024 presidential campaign. While the governor has not publicly expressed interest in running against former President Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary, behind the scenes his advisers have reportedly begun reaching out to and interviewing potential hires for a national campaign. 

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition annual meeting at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Nov. 19, 2022. (Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Polls have shown DeSantis runs competitively against both Trump and President Biden, and he has momentum with Republicans after a 19-point landslide re-election victory in November and a series of conservative victories in the Florida legislature on immigration, gun rights, and more. 

This latest bill targeting Disney ends a fight that began last year, when the company publicly opposed Florida's Parental Rights law, which prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, reserving such topics for age appropriate instruction in later grades. LGBTQ advocates condemned the law as hateful and discriminatory and used the misleading slogan "Don't Say Gay" to suggest DeSantis was banning the concepts of homosexuality or transgenderism from Florida schools entirely. 

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Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World

Crowds pack and fill Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World in Orange County, Florida, on June 1, 2022. (Joseph Prezioso/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Disney put out a statement that said: "Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that."

In response, DeSantis and the Florida legislature dissolved Walt Disney World’s special governing power in the Reedy Creed Improvement District. 

DISNEY'S REEDY CREEK IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT TO GET NEW NAME, GOVERNOR APPOINTED BOARD 

Ron DeSantis gives speech on stage

DeSantis with his wife Casey DeSantis speaks to supporters during an election night watch party at the Convention Center in Tampa, Florida, on November 8, 2022. (GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The new legislation, HB 9B, expands on that law and ensures that the company will pay upwards of $700 million dollars in unsecured debt accumulated by the Reedy Creek Improvement District — prohibiting surrounding Orange County from raising taxes on residents to cover Disney's costs. 

"The corporate kingdom has come to an end," DeSantis' communications director, Taryn Fenske, previously told Fox News. "Under the proposed legislation, Disney will no longer control its own government, will live under the same laws as everyone else, will be responsible for their outstanding debts, and will pay their fair share of taxes."

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The Reedy Creek Improvement Act was signed into law in May 1967 by Gov. Claude Kirk following Disney lobbying efforts. The entertainment giant proposed building a recreation-oriented development on 25,000 acres of property in a remote area of Central Florida's Orange and Osceola counties, which consisted of 38.5 square miles of largely uninhabited pasture and swampland.

Orange and Osceola Counties did not have the services or resources needed to bring the project to life, so the state legislature worked with Disney to establish the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special taxing district that allows the company to act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.

Fox News' Matt Leach contributed to this report.