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Monorail becomes the latest target in the Disney feud

Senate Transportation Chairman Nick DiCeglie is sponsoring a bill that would lead to state inspections of the Disney monorail system. (Colin Hackley/News Service of Florida)
Senate Transportation Chairman Nick DiCeglie is sponsoring a bill that would lead to state inspections of the Disney monorail system. (Colin Hackley/News Service of Florida)

TALLAHASSEE --- Disney’s iconic monorail system would face periodic state inspections, as Republican lawmakers continue to back Gov. Ron DeSantis in his clash with the entertainment giant.

Voting along party lines, the Republican-controlled Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on Tuesday amended a transportation bill (SB 1250) to apply Department of Transportation safety standards to monorail lines that connect Walt Disney World resorts and parks.

Senate Transportation Chairman Nick DiCeglie, an Indian Rocks Beach Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said state oversight should include the system handling a large number of tourists a day. DiCeglie noted the department has oversight for the tram at Orlando International Airport, adding, “I'm confident that the folks who are going to conduct these inspections are going to be qualified to do so.”

The plan would require audits, compliance reports conducted every three years and an annual onsite evaluation.

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.

Tuesday’s amendment to the transportation bill was the latest salvo in a feud that began last year after Disney publicly opposed a controversial state law that restricts instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. Lawmakers titled the measure the “Parental Rights in Education” law, but critics labeled it the “don’t say gay” bill.

After the opposition, DeSantis and Republican lawmakers initially moved to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which the state created in the 1960s and essentially gave Disney control over issues such as land use, fire protection and sewer services that are typically handled by local governments.

In February, lawmakers passed a DeSantis-backed bill that instead shifted control of the district away from Disney and allowed DeSantis to appoint a five-member Board of Supervisors. The bill also renamed the district as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

After new board members were seated, however, they realized the former Reedy Creek board during publicly advertised meetings had turned over many of its powers to Disney through agreements.

Last week, lawmakers approved amendments to development bills (HB 439 and SB 1604) that seek to override the agreements Disney reached with the outgoing Reedy Creek board members.

The changes Tuesday to the transportation 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.”

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.

The Disney monorail system, opened in 1971, covers nearly 15 miles and handles more than 50 million passengers a year, according to the company. The monorail cars were last updated in 1989.

The lone fatality tied to the system occurred in 2009 when an operator was killed in a collision between trains on the EPCOT line.

DiCeglie’s bill is now ready to go to the Senate floor. A similar transportation package (HB 1305) is expected to appear Thursday on the House floor, though that version doesn’t address Disney.

The News Service of Florida is a wire service to which WUFT News subscribes.