Florida Senate Passes Bill To Strip Disney Of Special District After Company’s Opposition To ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law

Apr 21, 22
Florida Senate Passes Bill To Strip Disney Of Special District After Company’s Opposition To ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law

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(AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

Florida’s state senate voted to strip The Walt Disney Co. of a 55-year-old special district that has allowed Walt Disney World to largely self-govern its theme park property.

The state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, asked lawmakers to take the step after Disney announced its opposition to the state’s recently passed parental rights bill, which opponents have dubbed “don’t say gay.”

Republicans in the House also are expected to approve the move. It would take effect on June 1, 2023.

The company has not yet commented.

On Tuesday, DeSantis asked state lawmakers to consider a proposal that would repeal certain special districts put in place by the state before 1968. That would include the Reedy Creek Improvement District, established in 1967 to cover Walt Disney World. That status has given Disney self-governing authority over its sprawling property, including on issues like land use and infrastructure.

The Senate’s vote was 23-16.

Meanwhile, California Governor Gavin Newsom weighed in on DeSantis’ attacks on the company, calling it “the move of an authoritarian regime.”

“THIS is what ‘business friendly’ means? We protect free speech in California. We help our businesses grow, thrive, and invent the future. Punishing businesses for speaking out against hatred is the move of an authoritarian regime.”

The parental rights law restricts K-3 teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with their students, and gives parents the right to sue. Opponents say that the law is too broadly written and is a politically motivated attack on the LGBTQ community.

It’s unclear just how the repeal of the district would impact Disney’s ability to finance and float bonds for different projects, as well as which county would have jurisdiction over the property and who would inherit debt obligations.

In the Senate debate over the repeal, one of its co-sponsors, Senator Jennifer Bradley, a Republican, said that the legislation gives lawmakers more say over what goes on in a geographic area. “The districts that are affected have not had any legislative oversight in 50 years,” she said. Five other special districts in the state would be affected, but Reedy Creek is the most prominent. The districts may seek to be reestablished after they are dissolved.

Senator Vic Torres, a Democrat, called the repeal a “knee jerk reaction and a political stunt” that has potential impact on jobs and tourism. He said that nearly $1 billion in the Reedy Creek’s bond debts would instead transfer to nearby Orange and Osceola counties.

“This is not about meaningful legislative review. This is punishment. This is political theater, and we are better than this,” said Senator Loranne Ausley, a Democrat.

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