1 of 2 | Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday to remove Disney World's self-governing powers and hand control of the park's Reedy Creek Improvement District to the state, so Disney can become "what Walt envisioned." File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday to remove Disney World's self-governing powers and hand control of the park's Reedy Creek Improvement District to the state.
The new law, which comes amid a feud between DeSantis and Walt Disney Co. over what critics call the "don't say gay" law," gives the Republican governor the power to appoint all five members of the district's governing board, subject to Senate confirmation.
"There's a new sheriff in town," DeSantis said as he signed the bill Monday. "Today, the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end. This is what accountability looks like."
During the signing ceremony, DeSantis also announced his choices for the board, which include Martin Garcia, a prominent Republican Tampa attorney, and Bridget Ziegler, a Sarasota school board member and founder of the conservative education group Moms for Liberty.
The district, which has been renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, will retain its tax benefits.
During a special session earlier this month, Florida lawmakers said the new law would not affect operations at Disney's theme parks. However, DeSantis said Monday he believes the board could veto mask requirements for park visitors, adding that he wanted to see Disney be "what Walt envisioned."
"We want our kids to be kids," DeSantis said. "We want them to be able to enjoy entertainment and school without having an agenda imposed upon them."
The original law, passed in 1967 before Walt Disney built the parks, gave Disney the power to elect all of the district's board members, along with control over land development and fire prevention.
At Monday's bill signing, the district's firefighters and first responders -- who supported the legislation -- presented DeSantis with a ceremonial ax.
While Disney has not commented, State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, blasted the new law.
"Disney still maintains the same tax breaks -- but their First Amendment rights have been suppressed, and it sends a message to any private individual or company that if you don't purport to what the governor wants, then you'll be punished," Eskamani said in a statement.
While critics argue DeSantis is punishing Disney for the state's "don't say gay" law, which bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity through the third grade, DeSantis says the power shift is meant to correct Disney's unfair advantage.
Nearly $1 billion in bond debt, which could have been billed to Orange and Osceola county residents, will now become the district's responsibility, according to DeSantis who said Disney's statement opposing the Parental Rights in Education bill was only a "mild annoyance."
"We believe being joined at the hip with this one California-based company was not something that was justifiable or sustainable."