TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The two-week special session has lawmakers advancing multiple bills that would affect Central Florida if passed.
The proposal for Reedy Creek passed the state Senate Friday with 26 votes in favor, and 9 opposed. The floor vote came after it sailed through the rules committee. All proposed amendments to the measure failed, which means the it will now head to Governor Ron DeSantis for his signature.
It advanced through a House committee Wednesday and passed a vote in the House on Thursday, with a majority of 82 votes in favor, compared to 31 votes opposed.
The bill aims to change who runs the special district, how it operates, and its name. The proposal will appoint a new governing body to oversee Reedy Creek district operations, a move that will replace Disney autonomy in decisions.
Shortly after the bill passed the Senate, President of Walt Disney World Resort Jeff Vahle responded, "For more than 50 years, the Reedy Creek Improvement District has operated at the highest standards, and we appreciate all that the District has done to help our destination grow and become one of the largest economic contributors and employers in the state. We are focused on the future and are ready to work within this new framework, and we will continue to innovate, inspire and bring joy to the millions of guests who come to Florida to visit Walt Disney World each year."
Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office said this legislation would eliminate Disney’s self-governing status, prevent Disney from gaining more land by eminent domain, impose Florida law so Disney is no longer given preferential treatment, and would create an avenue to compel Disney to contribute to local infrastructure among other changes.
Once the bill is signed, it will mark the end of a 55-year-old agreement between the state and the company.
“It takes away any special advantages that they had for the past 50 years or more,” said Rep. Fred Hawkins (R-St. Cloud).
The bill also vows to shield Orange and Osceola counties from taking on the district’s $1 billion debt.
Some lawmakers are concerned with the district’s proposed new name, “the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District,” being too vague and open.
“Central Florida is the site of all kinds of tourism, so does that mean now that we are going to be in the business of oversight of all tourist-related entities or just Reedy Creek?” Democratic State Sen. Geraldine Thompson said.
Republican State Rep. Paula Stark, who represents parts of Orange and Osceola counties, said as long as it’s appropriately identified, the name change doesn’t make much of a difference.
The bill would also limit board members to three consecutive terms and give the governor authority to appoint board members, rather than Disney-controlled entities doing so.
“We’re taking one problematic swamp and we’re creating another swamp by allowing for one person to appoint all five positions,” Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) said.
The legislation will go to the Senate after it passes the House.
The Transportation of Inspected Unauthorized Aliens bill gained ground again in the Senate. Under the proposed legislation, the state would relocate “unauthorized aliens” out of Florida, and out of other states, to sanctuary cities. The bill sets aside $10 million in funding to expand Florida’s relocation program.
“If they want to do it, God bless ‘em. But we’re not a sanctuary state. Nor will we be. So when we send them there, we’re sending them because other jurisdictions have made the commitment to take care of them,” said Republican Sen. Blaise Ingoglia.
In September, Gov. Ron DeSantis transported 50 migrants from Texas to Massachusetts.
Republican Rep. John Snyder, who sponsored the bill, said it’s about transporting people to sanctuary cities and curbing illegal immigration to Florida.
“What we’re doing, and part of the change to this program, is to give the governor and the Department of Emergency Management as much flexibility as we can to address what, sadly, we have seen as only an increase in the number of encounters of unauthorized aliens at the border,” Snyder said.
Democratic lawmakers argue that this isn’t the best way to use taxpayer dollars.
“Where is Florida’s authority in taking people that are not in Florida to another state using our money? Our taxpayer dollars, to do that?” said Democratic Rep. Kelly Skidmore.
“I want $10 million for homeless people in my district, for the families of murdered children, for beach erosion, for infrastructure, for parks for libraries for whatever,” Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo said.
The legislation is one vote away from getting onto the governor’s desk.
The House convened at 2 p.m. Thursday. The Senate returns Friday to consider the matter.