By Jack Phillips
Florida’s House of Representatives on April 21 approved a state Senate-passed measure that would strip Walt Disney Co. of its self-governing special district, reversing a more-than-50-year-old Florida provision amid criticism over the corporation’s decision last month to oppose a parental rights law.
The decision could mean that Disney, which controls a 25,000-acre parcel of land around Orlando, would pay significantly more in state taxes. At the same time, it signals a souring in relations between Disney—a major political donor and player in Florida—and the Republican-led government.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has criticized Disney—one of the world’s largest media conglomerates—for embracing a “woke” ideological position in recent days, will now have the option to sign the bill into law. A day earlier, the Senate approved the proposal mainly along party lines, with Democrats opposing it.
“What I would say as a matter of first principle is I don’t support special privileges in law just because a company is powerful and they’ve been able to wield a lot of power,” DeSantis said last month during a news conference. “I think what has happened is there’s a lot of these special privileges that are not justifiable, but because Disney had held so much sway, they were able to sustain a lot of special treatment over the years.”
The Republican governor also said earlier in April that left-wing “wokeness” will ultimately “destroy this country if we let it run unabated,” in response to Disney’s criticism.
The confrontation emerged after DeSantis signed legislation that would provide more parental rights while prohibiting classroom instruction on “gender identity” and sexual orientation to small children. Disney, in response, used the Democrat- and activist-favored term “Don’t Say Gay” to criticize the bill, although its text doesn’t mention those words.
“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law,” said Disney, which operates theme parks around the world—including in mainland China—in a statement several weeks ago.
“Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.”
Disney’s special status, known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, was signed into law in May 1967 by then-Gov. Claude Kirk after lobbying efforts by Disney. At the time, Orange and Osceola counties didn’t have the resources to transform the 25,000-acre property, so they allowed Disney special self-governing privileges for the area, which also serves as a special taxing district.
Orange County officials previously said that dissolving the law would deal a blow to the county’s budget.
“If we had to take over the first response and public safety components for Reedy Creek with no new revenue, that would be catastrophic for our budget in Orange County. It would put an undue burden on the rest of the taxpayers in Orange County, to fill that gap,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said.
But DeSantis said that Disney has, for decades, enjoyed special treatment in the state.
“They have gotten essentially this one corporation put on a pedestal and treated differently, not only than other businesses … but even than other theme parks,” DeSantis said weeks ago.
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