(NEW YORK) — Florida lawmakers on Friday approved a bill that would give Gov. Ron DeSantis the ability to appoint a board to run Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District – the self-governing region that encompasses the company’s theme parks outside Orlando.
The bill, HB 9B, passed 26-9 in the GOP-controlled state Senate while the Republican-controlled House approved the plan Thursday in a 82-31 vote. The bill now heads to DeSantis’ desk for signing.
According to the legislation, none of the appointees to the oversight board can be recent Disney employees or have had a contractual relationship with a theme park within the past three years.
The bill would also rename the district the “Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.”
Last year the state legislature passed a bill to eliminate the current district, which has granted Disney expansive authority over the area around its parks. Instead of eliminating the district, HB 9B gives the governor authority over who runs it.
The changes come after Disney publicly criticized a controversial DeSantis-backed law banning discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in certain K-12 classrooms last year.
The Parental Rights in Education Law has been dubbed by critics as “Don’t Say Gay,” while its supporters say it ensures age-inappropriate topics are kept out of class.
A Disney spokesperson, citing concerns of discrimination, said it “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law.”
The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of ABC News.
During the Senate floor discussion, Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo said HB 9B was brought to the floor for a vote because “someone’s feelings got hurt,” referring to DeSantis.
“I think every business that’s considering coming to Florida needs to be concerned,” Democratic Sen. Geraldine Thompson said. “I think that private businesses need to be concerned that if they exercise their First Amendment rights to speak up on an issue that they’re going to be punished by government. That’s what this is.”
Meanwhile, other state senators have sided with DeSantis.
“It was Disney’s decision to go from an apolitical safe 25,000 acres and try to be involved in public policy,” Republican Sen. Doug Broxson said.
DeSantis’ office insisted earlier this week that the changes to the district were an effort to ensure corporate accountability.
“Florida is dissolving the Corporate Kingdom and beginning a new era of accountability and transparency,” Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’ press secretary, said in a statement.
Griffin explained that the bill would end the district’s self-governing status and Disney’s exemption from state regulatory reviews.
The legislation would also keep the district’s current financial obligations in place, including outstanding debts. DeSantis has promised that neighboring Orange and Osceola counties would not be responsible for the district’s $1 billion debt despite the legal changes.
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