Though it was publicly neutral, Walt Disney World lobbied behind the scenes against a bill this session that would have given firefighters with the Reedy Creek Improvement District more leverage in future contract negotiations with the Disney-controlled government, according to a key lawmaker.
Rep. Eddy Gonzalez, a Republican from Hialeah, said Monday that a lobbyist for Disney came to see him during the legislative session and urged him to oppose HB 1365, which would have required both the Reedy Creek firefighters union and district administrators to abide by the recommendations of an independent mediator when contract talks reach an impasse. The final authority currently resides with Reedy Creek’s board of supervisors, all of whom are selected by Disney.
“They had concerns,” Gonzalez said. He said he could not recall what Disney’s specific concerns were.
A spokesman for Disney, which has said in the past that it was neutral on the legislation, said Monday that the giant resort merely asked the legislator about the bill's chances.
"We inquired about the bill's status and prospects for passage. Given that it was unlikely to pass, we saw no need for further involvement," spokesman Bryan Malenius said.
Gonzalez was an important figure in the issue because he is the chairman of the House Local & Federal Affairs Committee, the committee to which the Reedy Creek bill was assigned by House leadership. Gonzalez ultimately refused to allow a hearing on the bill, ensuring it would not pass.
“I think we needed to have more facts,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said the main reason he chose not to allow a committee vote was because several legislators from Orange County were opposed to the bill. Gonzalez had previously said House Majority Leader Steve Precourt, an Orlando Republican who has worked with Disney on other issues, was among those opposed, though he said Monday that there were others, as well. He said he could not remember who the others were.
Orange County’s legislative delegation – including Precourt – voted unanimously to support the bill when they met at a public hearing in Orlando shortly before the legislative session began. The annual two-month session ends this week.