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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida Senate backs inspections for Disney World's monorail

Disney World Magic Kingdom Castle
Allison Varney
/
via WMFE

The bill, HB 1305, includes requiring the Department of Transportation to inspect Disney’s monorail system.

The Florida Senate on Tuesday backed a measure that would lead to state oversight of Walt Disney World’s monorail system, as Gov. Ron DeSantis’ fight with the entertainment giant continues to expand.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 26-14 along almost-straight party lines to pass the bill (HB 1305), which includes requiring the Department of Transportation to inspect Disney’s monorail system. The House passed a version of the broad transportation bill last week. But the Senate made changes, meaning the measure will have to go back to the House for a final vote.

Senate Transportation Chairman Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, said the monorail-inspection requirement is simply “about safety.”

“I personally, obviously, don't think it is unreasonable for a monorail system that carries 150,000 people a day to have the state and their experts oversee in, what I think, is a very reasonable process that they have,” DiCeglie said.

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.

The state now 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.

Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, tried to block the proposed inspections of Disney’s monorail, calling the plan “retaliatory.”

Sen. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, and Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, crossed party lines and joined Democrats in voting against the bill.

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.

“I personally, obviously, don't think it is unreasonable for a monorail system that carries 150,000 people a day to have the state and their experts oversee in, what I think, is a very reasonable process that they have.”
State Sen. Nick DiCeglie

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.

DiCeglie said the Legislature should have required state oversight in 2010. That was a year after the monorail system had its lone fatality since opening in 1971. The 2009 death involved an operator killed in a collision between trains on the EPCOT line.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood, criticized targeting a specific company, saying it “is really bad. It's really bad politically. It's really bad philosophically.”

Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, questioned why other businesses would relocate to Florida “knowing that retribution could come at any time they cross the governor.”

DeSantis and Republican legislators have taken a series of steps targeting Disney since the company last year publicly opposed a law that restricts instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

The Senate vote Tuesday came a day after a newly appointed board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District filed a lawsuit in Orange County circuit court against Disney.

DeSantis this year appointed the board to replace leaders of the former Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was created in the 1960s and largely gave Disney self-governance power. The Legislature also renamed the Reedy Creek Improvement District as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District

The lawsuit filed Monday seeks to nullify agreements the former board made with Disney before the changes to the district.

Disney filed a lawsuit last week in federal court in Tallahassee, alleging that DeSantis and other officials improperly retaliated against Disney because of the company’s opposition to the controversial 2022 education law. The lawsuit said the retaliation threatens the company’s “business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region and violates its constitutional rights.”