By Jack Phillips
The Florida Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would remove the special tax district and self-governing status that was granted to Disney as lawmakers have criticized the company for opposing a parental rights bill.
The chamber, which was called into a special session by Gov. Ron DeSantis, passed the bill in a 23–16 vote to dissolve Disney’s special status within Florida, allowing the firm to self-government on its property—including Disney World—around Orlando. Specifically, the measure would dismantle the 50-year-old Reedy Creek Improvement District that allows the corporation to oversee its infrastructure laws, zoning, and even policing.
The Republican-led Florida House will now take up the bill. Disney has not issued a public statement on the matter, and The Epoch Times has contacted its corporate headquarters for comment.
A 1967 law passed by Florida’s House and Senate created the Reedy Creek Improvement District, but DeSantis recently told legislators that Florida’s Constitution “generally disfavors” laws that provide special privileges to corporations.
When announcing the special session on Tuesday, DeSantis said that lawmakers “will be considering the congressional map, but they also will be considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968, and that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District,” although he did not mention Disney by name. The bill, if it passes in the House, would also remove privileges from six other special districts in Florida because they were set up before the state’s Constitution was ratified in 1968.
As the Senate passed the bill Wednesday, DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw told news outlets that the move to revoke the Reedy Creek Improvement District wasn’t retaliatory after Disney criticized a separate bill that DeSantis recently signed into law.
“It was unfortunate that Disney decided to wade into a political debate and attempt to overturn a common-sense law, enacted by a duly elected legislature and signed by a duly elected governor, with the support of the vast majority of Floridians,” Pushaw remarked. “In fact, it was Disney that ‘retaliated’ by publicly vowing to ‘repeal’ or have the law ‘struck down.’”
Democrats quickly criticized DeSantis’s backing of the bill and claimed it was tantamount to retribution against Disney. Others claimed Disney, which employs tens of thousands, is a major economic player in the state.
“What world are we living in right now?” asked Democrat state Sen. Audrey Gibson, according to The Associated Press. “It’s the freedom state of Florida. If they disagree with the governor, he brings out the Gatling gun.”
DeSantis, a Republican, has criticized Disney’s public pressure campaign and criticism over a bill that he recently signed that prohibits classroom instruction on “gender identity” and sexual orientation for small children.
“Look, there are policy disputes, and that’s fine,” DeSantis told reporters earlier in April, “but when you’re trying to impose a woke ideology on our state, we view that as a significant threat.”
In late March, Disney issued a statement saying that “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,” although the law doesn’t make any reference to prohibiting saying the word “gay,” the “Don’t Say Gay” phrase has also been repeatedly used by celebrities, activists, and Democrat lawmakers since it was proposed.
Disney, which drew widespread condemnation for the critical comments, also said that it is “dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”
The firm’s comment sparked a debate about how whether corporations should have the right to political speech following the landmark “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision decades ago. But as Disney waded into the controversy, some parents groups have said they would boycott the company’s products and theme parks.
The Florida House of Representatives is scheduled to take up the bill on Thursday.