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Florida lawmakers send bill revoking Disney World's special tax status to DeSantis' desk

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Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado holds a sign while protesting outside of Walt Disney World on March 22, 2022, in Orlando, Florida. |

Both chambers of the Florida Legislature have approved a bill to end Disney’s special tax district that allows the company to govern the land for its Disney World theme park. 

On Thursday, the Florida House passed the bill 70-38, a day after the Senate approved it in a 23-16 party-line vote, with all but one Republican voting in favor of it and all Democrats opposed. 

The bill is now headed to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it. 

Seeing the lawmakers’ action as a threat, Walt Disney Co. warned Florida that it’s looking at other states to relocate to. 

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is attempting to recruit Walt Disney Co. to build a theme park in his state as the feud between Florida and the entertainment company stemming from differing opinions on the “Parental Rights in Education” bill continues. 

On Wednesday, the Florida Senate passed Senate Bill 4C that states: “Any independent special district established by a special act prior to the date of the ratification of the Florida Constitution on November 5, 1968, and which was not reestablished, re-ratified, or otherwise reconstituted by a special act or general law after November 5, 1968, is dissolved effective June 1, 2023.”

The legislation adds that “an independent special district affected by this subsection may be reestablished on or after June 1, 2023, pursuant to the requirements and limitations of this chapter.”

While the bill does not mention it by name, the Reedy Creek Improvement District containing the Walt Disney World theme park would be impacted if Senate Bill 4C becomes law. 

Florida state Rep. Spencer Roach, a supporter of the legislation, explained the implications for the Reedy Creek Improvement District that was established in 1967: “They are their own government. They’re exempt from all county regulation and most state regulations. Legally under the law, Disney could build a nuclear power plant there and we couldn’t do a darn thing about it.”

Additionally, Roach characterized the Reedy Creek Improvement District as an “aberration of the free market,” pushing back on the idea that the move to abolish the district was “retaliatory.” He noted that other Florida theme parks such as Busch Gardens and Universal Studios do not enjoy the same special privileges that Disney World has. Specifically, Disney has the authority to construct buildings without applying for “any of the regulatory permits that any other realtor, business developer or builder would have to.” 

The move to strip Disney of its self-governing privileges comes after the company’s emergence as a staunch critic of the state’s Parental Rights in Education bill that prevents school officials from talking about sexual orientation and gender identity with students in kindergarten through third grade.

Disney joined the chorus of LGBT activists in derisively referring to the measure as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill after LGBT employees and advocates complained that the company didn't do enough to push back on the legislation. 

Elected officials in Florida have condemned Disney’s activism against the bill, which includes airing an ad contending that supporters of the legislation want to “tear our families apart.”  Meanwhile, elected officials in other states have tried to convince Disney to abandon Florida in favor of building a new theme park in their backyard. 

Colorado’s governor took to Twitter Tuesday to respond to DeSantis’ remarks vowing to hold Twitter’s board of directors “accountable for breaching their fiduciary duty” by working to prevent billionaire Elon Musk’s acquisition of the social media giant. “Florida’s authoritarian socialist attacks on the private sector are driving businesses away,” Polis said. 

“In CO, we don’t meddle in the affairs of companies like @Disney or @Twitter,” he added. “Hey @Disney we’re ready for Mountain Disneyland and @twitter we’re ready for Twitter HQ2, whoever your owners are.” 

In a subsequent tweet, Polis responded to a Democratic Florida state lawmaker’s assertion that “Governor DeSantis is seeking to turn today’s Special Legislative Session into a full-scale attack on Walt Disney World and Mickey Mouse” by declaring, “We will grant Mickey and Minnie full asylum in Colorado.” 

The Florida lawmakers’ approval of the bill follows DeSantis’ proclamation expanding the purpose of the special session of the Legislature to include the consideration of “legislation relating to independent special districts.” DeSantis did not mention the controversy surrounding the parental rights bill, instead citing the establishment of “special laws granting privileges to private corporations” as a violation of the Florida Constitution, as approved by voters in 1968. 

While Disney has definitively come out against the parental rights bill, public opinion polling reveals that most Democrats in Florida support the measure. A poll conducted by the group Floridians For Economic Advancement showed that 52% of Democratic primary voters expressed some level of disapproval about students in kindergarten through third grade learning about “sexual orientation in the classroom.” 

A poll of all Americans conducted by The Daily Wire found that 64% of respondents agreed with the portion of the parental rights bill declaring that: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through third grade or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

Broken down by party affiliation, 69% of Republicans agreed with the statement, along with 57% of independents.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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