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Disney bill derailed by Republican walkout

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A new effort to give Disney control over its special district again was delayed, at least temporarily, by a Republican walkout at the Orange County delegation meeting Tuesday.

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Sen. Jason Brodeur, Sen. Dennis Baxley, and Rep. Doug Bankson left the delegation meeting before the morning session finished after Brodeur began complaining about a rule that limited his ability to run for chair of the delegation since his district is primarily outside the county.

Brodeur complained that the delegation operated as a “kangaroo court” and comparable to the US way of counting slaves before the Civil War.

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Democrats scoffed at the comparisons, noting they spend their entire Tallahassee careers in the minority and faced with votes they don’t like.

The Republican walkout preceded Sen. Linda Stewart’s introduction of a bill that would revert Florida’s policies about Reedy Creek to last year before Gov. DeSantis and his allies instituted a takeover of the district.

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Even though Democrats voted for the bill 7-0, they needed eight present for a quorum. The vote was nullified after Republican staffers and Rep. Anna Eskamani, the delegation leader, consulted the rules.

Stewart said her bill was necessary due to the long list of controversies the district has faced since March. She cited ethics concerns and cronyism with the hiring of the new district administrator, low staff morale, no-bid contracts discovered by 9 Investigates and inept management by the appointed board members.

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“I’m very fired up because I’m sick of it,” she said. “I hope that after they see all the things that have happened in nine months, and they continue to happen, that they will reconsider why they want to stick with the way it is right now.”

She said after the change was made, she’d be open to revisiting the structure of special districts, a nod to critics who have long complained Disney was given an unfair deal.

Eskamani said the delegation would schedule another vote later in the year when all Democrats were present to send the bill through. She called the walkout convenient for Republicans. Brodeur and Baxley have accepted more than $27,000 and $15,000 in campaign contributions, respectively from Disney during their political careers, and avoiding the vote means they wouldn’t have to oppose the company or DeSantis.

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The contributions happened before Republicans passed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which Disney opposed and led to their removal of oversight of Reedy Creek. Disney suspended political contributions in Florida because of that law.

The walkout did not stop Democrats from listening to community public comment late into the evening. Staffers of the Republican legislators were in the audience to take notes on behalf of their bosses.

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