Florida legislature approves end of Disney special status

One of the bills would eliminate the unique statute that allows Disney to operate as an independent government around its Orlando-area theme parks. The other would eliminate a Disney exclusion in a social media bill that was signed into law last year but put on hold by a federal judge.

The bills passed 70-38 at Florida House on Thursday. The vote passed without any final debate and came as several black Democratic members staged a protest against the redistricting map of Congress. The Disney bills passed the state Senate on Wednesday and are now heading to DeSantis’ desk.

Disney drew the ire of DeSantis and Sunshine State Republicans earlier this year over legislation banning schools from teaching young children about sexual orientation or gender identity.

After initially refusing to weigh in, Disney CEO Bob Chapek publicly slammed Florida lawmakers for passing what opponents called the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and apologized to LGBTQ employees. of the company for not being a stronger defender. Chapek then announced that the company would stop making political donations in Florida after decades of generous contributions, mostly to Republicans, including a $50,000 donation to DeSantis’ re-election effort.

While this week’s special session was originally called to finalize the job of redistributing the state’s congressional cards, once every ten years, state lawmakers added Disney legislation to the docket after DeSantis challenged lawmakers this week in a surprise bombshell announcement to unravel the 55 Reedy Creek Improvement Act, a unique Florida law that helped establish Walt Disney World in the state by giving the mastermind behind Mickey Mouse operational autonomy.

The bill would dissolve the special district on June 1, 2023.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District covers Disney properties near Orlando, allowing the company to manage land within its boundaries and provide its own utilities, such as firefighting and the police. The arrangement also has significant tax benefits for Disney.

Republican sponsors, often unable to give detailed answers to questions about the financial and legal implications of the legislation during floor discussions, have suggested the legislature could work out the logistics of dissolution over the next year.

This week, Florida Democrats came out openly against the bills, accusing Republicans of retaliating against Florida’s largest private employer in ways that will ripple through the state’s important tourism economy.

State Sen. Gary Farmer, a Democrat, called the tactic “shoot first, ask questions later.”

“Reedy Creek’s debt service alone exceeds $1 billion,” Farmer said Wednesday. “This bill makes no provision as to how this debt service will be met. Local government entities shall recover the assets and liabilities of any special district that is dissolved.”

Democratic state Rep. Fentrice Driskell told CNN just before Thursday’s votes, “This is going to cost the Orange and Osceola county governments and therefore taxpayers billions of dollars, I’m talking about a burden additional tax estimated at $2,200 for $2,800 per family.”


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