LS Law News Ron DeSantis tightens his control over Walt Disney World

Ron DeSantis tightens his control over Walt Disney World

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned people to “buckle up” as he signed a bill giving the state control over Disney’s sprawling Orlando theme parks.

The bill strips power uniquely held by Disney for over 50 years and enables more oversight by Mr DeSantis’ Republican-led legislature.

The move is seen as retaliation after Disney opposed state laws curtailing gender and sexuality education.

It precedes a likely 2024 presidential run by Mr DeSantis.

“Today, the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” he said on Monday at a bill signing ceremony in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, near Walt Disney World.

“There’s a new sheriff in town and accountability will be the order of the day.”

For more than 50 years, the Walt Disney World territory operated within Florida’s Reedy Creek Improvement District and essentially acted as a self-governing area, with control of utilities and a fire department.

It had been argued this saved local taxpayers from large infrastructure and other costs required to operate the 43 sq miles (111 sq km) of property that attracted millions of visitors a year.

The new law does not dissolve the district, or move its considerable debt on to taxpayers, but it subjects Disney to additional layers of external oversight through a five-member board now appointed by the state.

It also means Disney will be treated the same as other Orlando theme parks, Mr DeSantis said, and will no longer be exempt from certain state regulations, including building and fire prevention codes.

Mr DeSantis announced appointments to the new board, including Martin Garcia, a Tampa lawyer and Republican donor whose firm contributed $50,000 (£41,467) to Mr DeSantis’ re-election campaign.

Bridget Ziegler, a Sarasota County School Board member who was a co-founder of the conservative organization Moms for Liberty and the wife of Christian Ziegler, the new chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, was also appointed.

The new board is scheduled to meet next week, Mr DeSantis said, adding that “they will be in charge during that board meeting, so buckle up”.

Among the first decisions Mr DeSantis suggested would be taken was a pay increase for emergency first responders in the newly named Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

Friction between Disney, one of the world’s biggest media companies, and Florida lawmakers dates back to a controversial bill signed by Mr DeSantis last April.

Disney released a public statement voicing opposition to the bill, which banned gender and sexuality education in Florida schools for pupils aged nine and under.

Opponents of the bill – which some dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law and which is now enacted – said it would isolate and stigmatize LGBT youth, while supporters said it would protect children from what they said was inappropriate content.

Mr DeSantis responded to the opposition by calling on lawmakers to strip Disney of its special governing power.

A person in a mouse costume holds a DeSantis campaign poster and takes selfies with a supporter in April 2022

Supporters of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill had held rallies outside Disney World in Orlando

The public feud between Mr DeSantis and Disney has helped elevate his profile as a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate.

But during a news conference on Monday, Mr. DeSantis hinted he was still a fan of the Mouse. “In spite of all the stuff that’s happened over the past couple of years, I’ve always been very proud of our parks,” he said.

“It’s almost like a rite of passage for people to be able to come down here, and a lot of families have had really great experiences… but when you lose your way, you’ve got to have people who can tell you the truth.”