Florida Senate Passes Bill to End Disney Self-Government in the State

The Florida Senate passed a bill on Wednesday to repeal a law that would allow Walt Disney World to conduct private government over its properties in the state, escalating a feud with the entertainment giant over its opposition to what critics called the “Don.” t Say Gay”. law.

The proposal could have huge tax implications for Disney, whose array of theme parks over the decades has transformed Orlando into one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. And Democrats have warned the move could result in local homeowners facing hefty tax bills if they have to absorb Disney bond debt — though such details are far from clear.

The measures, pushed by Republican administration Ron DeSantis, come as the governor is battling Disney over the company’s criticism of a new GOP law that bans instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. , as well as instruction that is not “age-appropriate”. or developmentally suitable.”

The bill would eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the Disney government is known, as well as a handful of other similar districts by June 2023. The measure leaves room for the districts to be redeveloped, with a Republican legislative leader signaling likely restructuring. of a 1967 deal that lawmakers signed with the company that allows it to provide services such as zoning, fire protection, utilities and infrastructure.

Last Battle of Culture War

“By doing it this early, we have until June or July to put this together, so we’re actually giving ourselves more time to think,” Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson told reporters after the vote. “I don’t know how it will end, but I know this is a very valuable process that we’re taking and I think anything that comes out of it will be better than what we have today.”

Still, the move represents the latest battle in a culture war waged by DeSantis as he runs for reelection and cements himself as a potential GOP presidential candidate for 2024 through fervent opposition to liberal policies on race, gender, and abortion.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, pictured here in February 2022 in Miami, pushed for the bill’s approval. (Marta Lavandier/The Associated Press)

“If Disney wants to argue, they’ve picked the wrong man,” DeSantis wrote in a fundraising email on Wednesday. “As governor, I have been elected to put the people of Florida first, and I will not allow an awakened corporation in California to run our state.”

‘Punishing, petulant political revenge’

Democrats, the minority party in the Florida legislature, have spoken out against the proposal in clear retaliation against a company that has been a major economic engine in the state.

“Let’s call this what it is: it’s the punitive, petulant political revenge on a company that dared to say the emperor has no clothes on, but if they behave themselves this next election cycle, maybe we’ll put it back together” said Sen. Gary M. Farmer, a Democrat.

Disney did not return an email asking for comment. The company is one of Florida’s largest private employers, and last year said it had more than 60,000 employees in the state. It’s not immediately clear exactly how Disney or neighboring governments would be affected if the district were disbanded.

The push to punish Disney came after it announced it would suspend political donations in the state and said it is committed to supporting organizations opposing the new state law restricting sexual orientation or gender identity education in the classroom.

DeSantis and other Republicans have lashed out at Disney and other critics of the law, arguing that the policy is reasonable and that parents, not teachers, should discuss such topics with children.

The creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, and the control it gave Disney over 11,000 acres in Florida, was a pivotal element in the company’s plans to build near Orlando in the 1960s. Company officials said they needed autonomy to plan a futuristic city along with the theme park. The city, however, never materialized; instead it turned into the Epcot theme park.

The Florida House of Representatives is expected to consider the bill Thursday.

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