An oversight board in Florida on Wednesday will consider a ban on future COVID-19 mask or vaccine mandates at Walt Disney World, part of an effort by state Republicans to assert more control over Walt Disney Co’s theme parks in Orlando.
In a public meeting, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District will consider COVID-19 policies and other issues, such as whether to endorse a legal opinion that a Disney agreement with developers is invalid.
The measures represent the latest chapter in Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s bid to exert control over Disney, following its criticism of the state’s law banning classroom discussion of sexuality and gender identity in schools.
The COVID-19 resolution would prohibit businesses, including amusement parks, from requiring employees or customers to provide proof of vaccination or to wear face masks.
A bill working its way through the Florida legislature would prohibit businesses or government entities from requiring a person to provide documentation or require a COVID-19 test as a condition of employment.
Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Walt Disney World halted its vaccine requirement for workers in November 2021, after DeSantis signed a law that allowed the state to fine companies if they mandated COVID-19 vaccines. The Disney World theme parks dropped all mask requirements a year ago.
“Disney clung to forcing these young kids to wear masks forever. And so I think that the district would be within its right to say that anyone who’s a patron of any business in this district has the right to do it mask free,” DeSantis said at a recent press conference.
On Wednesday, the tourism board also is expected to endorse a legal finding that a developer agreement Disney reached in February with a prior board is “void and unenforceable.” The Florida legislature is considering a bill that would retroactively invalidate the agreement.
The pact cemented a 10-year plan, adopted in July 2022, giving Disney the option to add a fifth major theme park, two minor parks, 1 million square feet of retail space and some 14,000 hotel rooms.
The plan also ensures that future boards would honor a commitment to $527 million in capital improvements to support Disney World’s growth over the next decade.
Attorneys for the newly constituted oversight board wrote that the agreement and restrictive covenants had a number of legal defects, including lack of proper public notice.
A final resolution before the board would grant it “superior authority and control” over planning, zoning and other land use in the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista where Disney World is located. (Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Editing by Sonali Paul)
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