TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Rep. Fred Hawkins (R-Osceola) filed the bill to cement state control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the central bill for the February special legislative session.
As stated in previous announcements from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the focus of the legislation will be to root out control of the special independent district from those working for or loyal to the Walt Disney Company, and instead put it in the hands of a state-controlled board.
In multiple statements made by lawmakers and the governor, the legislation is targeted to make control of the land around Walt Disney World subject to state control, and to prevent “a corporation controlling its own government,” according to DeSantis.
He added in multiple instances that the point was to make Disney pay its dues.
“We said that at the time and we’ll have a great framework in place to bring some sense to this and it’s not right to put one company in this special status,” DeSantis said previously. “What we’re really doing is just doing is equally treatment, and it’s exactly what we said we would do.”
That “great framework” is now publicly available for review, and state lawmakers are poised to vote on it.
House Bill 9B, delivers on the goal of removing Disney’s special status through a number of provisions, first and foremost of which is to make the RCID a public corporation of the state, renamed as the “Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.”
The bill will give RCID two years to phase out its processes of doing business under the Reedy Creek name, in order for the newly reformatted entity to change records, contracts, bonds, accounts, physical assets, and other relevant items without impeding its functional requirements.
HB 9B also states explicitly that the district’s renaming will not impact any of its existing agreements, bonds, or other instruments of indebtedness, liabilities, assets, rights, or district obligations. The lawfully held debts, bonds, obligations, contracts, franchises, promissory notes, audits, minutes, resolutions, and other undertakings of RCID will be valid and continue to be valid and binding to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, “in accordance with their respective terms, conditions, and covenants.”
The bill also requires that all taxes levied by the Reedy Creek Board of Supervisors will remain in effect, remain binding, collectible, and lien on those lands will be retained in accordance with the legislation’s provisions.
Through its provisions, Florida will essentially end the governance of the Magic Kingdom in the way it has operated since 1967.
Board members are appointed to serve the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, with appointments of the five members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Florida Senate. To be eligible as a board member, the individual must live in the state of Florida.
The legislation also makes a list of individuals who are ineligible to serve on the new board for the renamed district.
Going forward, “Any person who, within the past 3 years, has been an officer, owner, director, employee, agent, contractor, or subcontractor of, or has had a contractual relationship with a business entity that owns or operates a theme park or entertainment complex as defined [by state statutes], or a parent company, subsidiary, or sibling organization under common ownership or control with a business entity that owns or operates a theme park or entertainment complex.”
Relatives, as defined by state law, for the aforementioned individuals are also ineligible to serve on the board, and should a spot on the board open, the Florida governor will be charged with filing an executive order to fill it.
Board member terms will be set at four years, until a successor is chosen and qualified, with the exception of initially selected appointees. Members cannot serve more than three consecutive terms, though reappointment at a later time is not prohibited.
In addition to new leadership and other bureaucratic powers for the board, HB 9B allows the newly-renamed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District to exercise eminent domain within its defined territory, “for the purpose of condemning any real, personal, or mixed property, public or private, including property owned by the City of Bay Lake or the City of Lake Buena Vista, which the board of supervisors deems necessary for the use, construction, or operation of any of the projects of the district or otherwise to carry out any of the purposes of the district.”
The newly renamed district, should the legislation pass, would also be charged with control and maintenance of sewage systems, recreation facilities, parking facilities, mosquito and pest control, waste collection and disposal, water and flood control, erosion control, reclamation, drainage, irrigation, fire protection, transportation, and public utilities.
The district will also be able to issue bonds, including general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, assessment bonds, or any other bonds or obligations authorized by the provisions of HB 9B, as well as provide for funding of projects, facilities, district activity, retirement or refunding of bonds or financial obligations, or any combination of those needs.
The legislation provides a number of regulations for permitting, building, construction, land management, bond issuance, and other economic needs and management requirements.
Despite the bill’s explicitly intended purpose, and immediate impact upon becoming law, the name “Disney” is not mentioned in the text of the legislation a single time.
While technically a vote has to be undertaken to push the legislation into law formally, with a Republican supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, the planned takeover of the Magic Kingdom’s governance is all but a certainty, with lawmakers in both the Florida Senate and Florida House of Representatives vocally in lockstep with the governor.
Due to the minority of Democratic lawmakers in both chambers, should the party’s members not be physically present for the vote, there’s still a strong likelihood to pass, similar to the votes in the 2022 special legislative session that stripped Disney’s status in the first place.
In response to the legislation’s filing, the Walt Disney Company issued the following statement to WFLA.
Jeff Vahle, President, Walt Disney World Resort
“We are monitoring the progression of the draft legislation, which is complex given the long history of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Disney works under a number of different models and jurisdictions around the world, and regardless of the outcome, we remain committed to providing the highest quality experience for the millions of guests who visit each year.”
Separately, the governor’s office said the legislation was written to dissolve Disney’s “Corporate Kingdom.” In a statement from a spokesman for the governor, officials said the proposal was focused on transparency and accountability.
“In 1967, the Florida Legislature created the Reedy Creek Improvement District (the District), which gifted extraordinary special privileges to a single corporation,” Press Sec. Bryan Griffin said in a statement. “Until Governor DeSantis acted, the Walt Disney Company maintained sole control over the District. This power amounted to an unaccountable Corporate Kingdom.”
Referring to the powers in question, the governor’s office said the Walt Disney Company had been allowed:
- Full self-governing status with a Disney-selected board.
- The ability to build airports and nuclear facilities.
- Acquisition of property beyond the District’s territory by condemnation and eminent domain.
- Unilateral boundary changes.
- No-bid procurements of construction contracts.
- Operating standards that varied from Florida Statute.
- Exemptions from regulatory reviews and approvals that other companies must navigate.
According to the governor’s office, should the legislation pass, it would:
- Permanently eliminates Disney’s self-governing status.
- Imposes a state-controlled, term-limited board – with members appointed by the governor – on Disney and its property.
- Allows the state to impose taxes on Disney for possible road projects outside of the District’s boundaries.
- Ensures that Disney pays the $700+ million in unsecured debt – not Florida taxpayers.
- Provides no control of the district to the leftist local government in Orange County, which threatened to leverage the situation to raise local taxes.
- Imposes Florida law so that Disney is no longer given preferential treatment.
- Prevents Disney from gaining more land by eminent domain.
- Creates an avenue to compel Disney to contribute to local infrastructure.