Florida Lawmakers to Finalize Takeover of Disney World’s Self-Governing District

February 6, 2023

Florida state lawmakers were set to convene a special session Monday to discuss several legislative measures, including the completion of the state’s takeover of Walt Disney World’s self-governing district.

The aim of the special session, called by Republican leaders in the statehouse in coordination with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), is to restructure the the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the government body created in 1967 that effectively gives Disney, the state’s largest employer, control over the land in and around its central Florida theme parks. 

DeSantis had targeted Reedy Creek last year after Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek publicly criticized Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” bill, which restricts certain classroom instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity.  The governor signed the bill into law in March.

The Florida statehouse session comes as Disney World is in the midst of dealing with labor tensions. Unions representing about 32,000 full-time workers—including ride operators, costumed performers, custodial and housekeeping staff, restaurant and shop employees, and bus drivers—voted Friday to reject Disney’s new five-year contract.

Disney said the offer includes “a nearly 10 percent on average raise immediately, as well as retroactive increased pay in their paychecks.” The minimum starting wage for the Disney workers is currently $15. Florida’s state minimum wage is $11, rising to $12 in the fall.

The lawmakers’ special session, meanwhile, is also set to discuss creating a state department focused on Florida’s program for transporting migrants to Democratic-led states. In 2022, the Florida Legislature approved a $12 million budget item to relocate people in the country illegally from Florida to another location.

The Florida special session would also adjust language in current laws addressing endorsement deals for college athletes. 

Florida was one of the first states to pass a law allowing college athletes to profit off their name, image or likeness. However, that law doesn’t allow people affiliated with universities to help secure endorsement deals. A new proposal would lift that provision to make Florida more competitive with other states that don’t have the restriction.

Florida’s special legislative session is to occur amid DeSantis reportedly actively preparing for a run for the GOP Presidential nomination in 2024, which would put him in a potentially crowded field of primary competitors that so far includes former President Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

In just the last two weeks, an Emerson College poll found Trump leading the Florida governor by 26 points, 55%-29%, in a multi-candidate primary field, while a Bulwark/North Star/Dynata poll found DeSantis leading the former President by 11 points, 39%-28%.

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