Florida's Ron DeSantis shuts down Disney World's special district status

Move from Republican governor comes as speculation builds over 2024 presidential campaign

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill stripping Disney World of its special district status. AP
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Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a law taking control of the special district surrounding the Walt Disney World Resort that allowed the theme park to operate effectively as its own government for decades.

“The Corporate Kingdom finally comes to an end,” Mr DeSantis said during a news conference at Lake Buena Vista near Orlando.

The law authorises the Florida governor to appoint supervisors to oversee services such as providing fire protection, waste management and road maintenance. The district also has the authority to raise revenue to pay debt.

“How do you give one theme park its own government and then treat all the other theme parks differently,” Mr DeSantis said.

The district, formerly known as Reedy Creek Improvement District, will be renamed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

The move is seen as a retaliatory measure by the Republican governor over Disney's disapproval of a state law passed last year that prohibited schools from providing lessons on sexual orientation.

Mr DeSantis has said that parents should teach their children about gender identity and sexual orientation, not schools.

“We want them [children] to be able to enjoy entertainment, school without having an agenda imposed upon them,” he said. “And so if you're going that way as a corporation, those are not the values that we want to promote in Florida.”

Widely speculated to be planning a bid for the 2024 US presidential election, Mr DeSantis has gone after what he calls the “woke” agenda.

His “Stop Woke Act”, signed into law last year, prohibits entities from teaching pupils or employees about subjects which would make them “feel guilt” over their race, ethnicity or gender.

Re-elected governor in November, Mr DeSantis also dismissed guidance from the federal government over social-distancing measures during the Covid-19 pandemic and is a vocal critic of President Joe Biden's immigration policies.

At the weekend, he held a conference at a hotel near former president Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, playing host to 150 donors. This week, he will skip a speaking slot at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a gathering ground for US conservatives in Washington to host donors at events in Texas and California, The Associated Press reported.

Bloomberg contributed to this report

Updated: February 27, 2023, 11:43 PM