Ron DeSantis tightens his grip on Walt Disney World

Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned people to “buckle up” as he signed legislation giving the state control of Disney’s sprawling theme parks in Orlando.

The bill will strip the power Disney has held for over 50 years and allow more control from Mr. DeSantis’ Republican-led Legislature.

The move is seen in retaliation after Disney opposed state laws restricting gender and sex education.

It precedes a likely 2024 presidential election for Mr. DeSantis.

“Today, the corporate empire is finally coming to an end,” he said Monday at a signing ceremony for the bill in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., near Walt Disney World.

“There’s a new sheriff in town and accountability will be the order of the day.”

For more than 50 years, the sprawling area of ​​Walt Disney World operated within Florida’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, functioning essentially as a self-governing territory with control of utilities and a fire department.

It has been argued that this saves local taxpayers large infrastructure and other expenses needed to operate the 43 square miles (111 square kilometers) property, which draws millions of visitors annually.

The new law doesn’t dissolve the district or shift its sizable debt to taxpayers, but it does subject Disney to additional external oversight through a five-member board now appointed by the state.

It also means Disney will be treated the same as other Orlando theme parks, Mr. DeSantis said, and will no longer be exempt from certain state regulations, including building and fire codes.

Mr. DeSantis announced appointments to the new board, including Martin Garcia, a Tampa attorney and Republican donor whose firm contributed $50,000 (£41,467) to Mr. DeSantis’ re-election campaign.

Bridget Ziegler, a member of the Sarasota County School Board, co-founder of the conservative organization Moms for Liberty, and wife of Christian Ziegler, the incoming Florida Republican Party leader, was also appointed.

The new board is scheduled to meet next week, Mr. DeSantis said, adding that “they’re going to be in charge during this board meeting, so buckle up.”

Among the first decisions Mr. DeSantis proposed was a pay rise for first responders in the newly designated Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

The friction between Disney, one of the world’s largest media companies, and the Florida legislature stems from a controversial bill signed into law by Mr. DeSantis last April.

Disney released a public statement opposing the law that banned gender and sexuality education in Florida schools for students under the age of nine.

Opponents of the bill – dubbed by some as the “Don’t Say Gay” law and now going into effect – said it would isolate and stigmatize LGBT youth, while supporters said it would protect children from inappropriate content.

DeSantis responded to the opposition by asking lawmakers to strip Disney of its special powers of governance.

The public feud between Mr. DeSantis and Disney has helped raise his profile as a potential Republican presidential nominee for 2024.

But during a press conference on Monday, Mr. DeSantis hinted that he was still a fan of the mouse. “Despite all the things that have happened in recent years, I’ve always been very proud of our parks,” he said.

“It’s almost like a right of passage for people to be able to come here, and a lot of families have had really great experiences … but when you get lost, you have to have people who can tell you the truth.” Ron DeSantis tightens his grip on Walt Disney World

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