Disney monorail inspections bill headed for Gov. DeSantis
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida House on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that would lead to the state Department of Transportation inspecting Walt Disney World’s monorail system, as Gov. Ron DeSantis is locked in a battle with Disney.
The monorail inspections were included in a broad transportation bill (HB 1305) that is headed to DeSantis. The House voted 83-32 to pass the bill, which was approved Tuesday by the Senate.
The bill would require state oversight of "any governmentally or privately owned fixed-guideway transportation systems operating in this state which are located within an independent special district created by a local act which have boundaries within two contiguous counties." That definition would apply to Disney.
Democrats argued the change is politically motivated amid a feud that started last year when Disney opposed a DeSantis-backed law that restricts instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
"I just don't think it makes sense for us to legislate in a manner that is punitive towards a private business," Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said.
But Republicans pointed to safety considerations. The monorail system had a fatality in 2009, when an operator was killed in a collision between trains on the EPCOT line.
"There was an incident in 2009 where a death occurred, but FDOT (the Department of Transportation) is looking at inspecting this so we know what issues do arise," House bill sponsor Shane Abbott, R-DeFuniak Springs, said. "What this is important for is, we don't know what we don't know right now."
The state already requires Department of Transportation safety standards for governmentally owned fixed-guideway systems and systems that are privately owned but funded all or in part by the state.
But Disney and other large theme parks conduct their own safety inspections because of a carve-out from oversight by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The department inspects amusement-park rides except at facilities or parks that have more than 1,000 employees and full-time inspectors on staff.
The bill would require compliance reports every three years and an annual onsite evaluation.
The state and Disney are tangled in two new lawsuits rooted in a decision by DeSantis and lawmakers to revamp the former Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was created in the 1960s and largely gave Disney self-governance power.
DeSantis this year appointed board members of the renamed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. But the former Reedy Creek board entered into development agreements with Disney before the new board was seated.
The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District filed a lawsuit this week in Orange County circuit court to try to nullify those agreements.
That came after Disney filed a lawsuit last week in federal court in Tallahassee, alleging DeSantis and other officials improperly retaliated against the company over its opposition to the controversial 2022 education law.
Disney’s lawsuit contends the retaliation threatens the company’s "business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights."
Lawmakers this week also could pass a separate bill (SB 1604) that seeks to nullify the agreements reached by the former Reedy Creek board. That bill is pending in the Senate after passing the House on Wednesday.
Under the bill, special districts would be prohibited from complying with development agreements executed three months or less before new laws take effect that change how district board members are selected. The bill also would give new boards four months to review any development agreements and decide if they should be re-adopted.