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Florida Republicans Hand DeSantis a Major Win - All He Has to Do Is Sign the Bill

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Walt Disney World is poised to be stripped of its self-governing powers after Florida Senate Republicans approved a bill Friday overhauling the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The legislation, which now awaits the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis, would require the governor to appoint a five-member board to oversee the government services it provides in the company’s sprawling properties in Central Florida.

The bill’s passage is another victory for DeSantis in his battle with Disney, which lobbied against the Parental Rights in Education bill he pushed last year.

That law prohibits classroom instruction regarding “sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade “or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards” for those in higher grades.

Disney and others fought the legislation, disingenuously describing it as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

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The vote on the Disney bill Friday ended a special legislative session focused on the conservative agenda of a governor who has become a national GOP star and potential White House contender.

The measure changes the district’s name from the Reedy Creek Improvement District to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and subjects it to various layers of state oversight. Board members are currently named through entities controlled by Disney.

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The bill leaves the district and its financial abilities and debt obligations intact, addressing a chief concern of surrounding governments. It also prevents people who have worked with or contracted with a theme park in the past three years from serving on the district’s new governing board.

Having a separate government allows the district to issue bonds and provide zoning, fire protection, utilities and infrastructure services on its land.

Republican critics of the district argue it gives Disney a commercial advantage unavailable to others.

“This bill takes an old district and modernized it and updated it,” said Republican Rep. Fred Hawkins, the bill sponsor. “It took rights away that no corporation should have in being able to construct or have an unfair competitive advantage over its competitors.”

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The creation of the district was instrumental in the company’s decision to build near Orlando in the 1960s.

Disney officials had told the state they planned to build a futuristic city that would include a transit system and urban planning innovations, so the company needed autonomy in building and deciding how to use the land. The futuristic city never materialized and instead morphed into a second theme park that opened in 1982.

Separately on Friday, Republicans in the House gave final passage to two bills that amount to technical fixes to key DeSantis initiatives on illegal immigration and voter fraud. The proposals now move to the governor’s office to be signed into law.

One bill is meant to cut off a legal challenge to the governor’s migrant relocation program, which began last year when DeSantis used state funds to fly a group of South American migrants from Texas to the liberal enclave resort island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

The trip drew legal questions because the administration paid for the flight using money intended to remove illegal immigrants who were located in Florida, not other states.

The legislation creates a dedicated program in the governor’s office on migrant relocation and specifies that future flights could move migrants from anywhere in the U.S.

Republicans have said the bill would help the migrants by taking them to sanctuary cities and states, while Democrats have complained that it is just a political stunt meant to serve the governor’s political ambitions.

The other proposal is meant to strengthen the prosecutorial power of the governor’s election police unit, clarifying in state law that the statewide prosecutor has the authority to prosecute election crimes in federal and state races.

“This ensures fraud will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, as it should,” Republican Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin said.

Some cases tied to the election police unit have been dismissed by judges who said the statewide prosecutor did not have jurisdiction to bring charges.

DeSantis pushed lawmakers to create the election police unit last year to address Republican concerns about voter fraud following the 2020 presidential election.

The unit, housed in the governor’s department of state, reviews fraud allegations and conducts preliminary investigations, with a special group of state police officers who pursue violations.

Democrats have claimed the unit is meant to dissuade people from voting.

“This is a fear tactic and it’s voter suppression, plain and simple,” said Rep. Dianne Hart, a Democrat.

DeSantis is expected to sign the bills into law.

Lawmakers will return to Tallahassee in early March for their regular legislative session, where they are expected to approve another slate of DeSantis priorities on guns, education, capital punishment and abortion.

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

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