Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had plans to change the way the state looks into the operations of theme parks in Florida, and part of his plan was to pass a law that would allow the state to conduct a massive overhaul of Disney World’s beloved attractions and rides.
That’s according to a recently surfaced report about the governor’s intended actions toward the Most Magical Place on Earth as part of the ongoing feud and legal battle between the two entities.
A Fiery Feud Still Brewing
Disney World has been in the state of Florida since the 1960s, when Walt Disney and his colleagues first scouted out swampland in Central Florida, buying it up hundreds to thousands of acres at a time under alias business identities. In 1967, shortly after Walt Disney’s death, the Reedy Creek Improvement District was incepted as a means of self-government for the 47 square miles of Disney-owned property that lies in both Orange and Osceola Counties in Florida.
Then, in 1971, Disney World opened its gates to welcome the very first guests to “The Most Magical Place on Earth.” For more than 55 years, Disney and the state of Florida operated in a peaceful co-existence–a co-existence that some might have described as symbiotic at times. But in early 2022, things began to deteriorate drastically.
A Controversial Law That Had Nothing to Do With Disney
In March 2022, Governor DeSantis signed into law the Parental Rights in Education bill, a controversial piece of legislation that affected parents of school-aged children enrolled in public school in Kindergarten through third grade. The law essentially prohibits school staff, including teachers and other instructors, from using class time to teach on the topics of gender identity, sexual orientation, and the like. The law did not, however, prohibit instructors from answering questions on the topics on a one-to-one basis.
The law, though only effective in public schools in the state of Florida–and only for school-aged children in grades Kindergarten through third, was met with staunch controversy and was dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, even before it became law, although no part of the verbiage in the law prohibits the use of the term gay.
Some employees at The Walt Disney Company reportedly took issue with the bill and called on then-CEO Bob Chapek to issue a statement denouncing the bill before it became law–a request he reportedly denied initially. Ultimately, however, Chapek issued a statement on behalf of Disney condemning the bill shortly before it passed. On the day the bill passed, Chapek issued another statement, condemning the passing of the law and vowing a stance of solidarity with those who aimed to see the law repealed.
The move, unsurprisingly, led to a retalitory move from the Florida governor, who took aim at Disney’s self-governing status by passing another law in April 2022 that would effectively abolish a handful of self-governing districts in the state with Disney’s Reedy Creek being among them.
Since that time, the feud has only escalated.
Reedy Creek Becomes Central Florida Oversight
Earlier this year, DeSantis passed additional legislation that changed the name of the Reedy Creek Improvement District to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD), and the governor was given executive control over the appointing of new board members to replace those chosen by Disney.
While many facets of the district remain the same, many changes took effect as well. But a recently discovered report appears to show that Gov. DeSantis had far more planned for the Walt Disney World Resort than the general public knew.
In an article at SeekingRents.com, journalist Jason Garcia gives details about a report that he claims proves that Gov. Ron DeSantis had in mind a massive overhaul of attractions and offerings at Disney World. Per Garcia’s post, a member of the Florida legislature introduced a brand-new measure that would take “aim at the theme park industry.” The measure was introduced as a piece of “eleventh-hour” legislation, as it came just before 9:00 p.m. on a Friday evening late in this year’s legislative session in the Sunshine State.
The proposed measure would have allowed Florida’s state regulators to conduct inspections of rides at the state’s largest theme park establishments–something that has long been the responsibility of those theme parks, as outlined by state law that exempts those parks, which include Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando Resort, and SeaWorld Orlando, among others, to conduct their own inspections and submit quarterly reports of injuries that take place at the theme parks and result in a hospital admission.
The amendment was filed by Rep. Lawrence McClure from Tampa, but according to Garcia, records indicate that the idea for such a measure came from Gov. DeSantis.
DeSantis Reportedly Had Other Plans
Per Garcia’s post, an email that was obtained through a public records request indicates that a DeSantis aide sent a memo to Rep. McClure’s office with specific language that was to be used in the proposed amendment only hours before it was submitted by McClure for consideration.
The amendment was reportedly submitted in April 2023 but gained little traction, as it was withdrawn less than a day later, and no one was the wiser.
FDACS and Florida Theme Parks
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, or FDACS, is the governing body in Florida when it comes to theme parks. As the law stands, theme park operators who employ more than 1,000 workers are not subject to ride inspections by the state, but rather, they must submit reports of injuries every quarter, so long as those injuries take place at the theme park and result in at least an overnight hospital stay.
For years, there has been opposition to the measure, as some point out that injuries that don’t result in a hospitalization do not have to be reported. Those that are reported are done so with very few details, as privacy legislation precludes health information, including the outcomes from any hospitalizations to be given out or shared.