WASHINGTON (TND) — Florida's governor upped the ante against Disney this week and the move was backed by the state’s Senate Wednesday as they passed a bill to repeal a law that allows Disney World to govern its own properties in the state.
This week, Gov. Ron DeSantis asked lawmakers to consider stripping Disney of its special government privileges after the company stood against Florida's new Parental Rights in Education bill, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades pre-K through 3.
Following committee hearings Tuesday night, the Senate delivered a massive blow to that company that has become synonymous with Florida. In a 23-16 vote, legislators backed the measure to dissolve Disney’s control over its theme park area.
The special district — officially called the Reedy Creek Improvement District — is a 39-square-mile area given to Disney World by the state more than 50 years ago, which allows the company to control the area around its parks with almost no government interference.
Republican lawmakers argue that it's not just Disney in the state’s crosshairs, saying other districts will also be reviewed but they’ve been clear about taking action against the company.
“Their behavior has been atrocious, frankly, as a guest in the state of Florida. So, when you kick the hornet’s nest, sometimes issues pop up and this is one,” Republican state Rep. Randy Fine said.
But Democrats are warning that GOP lawmakers and the governor are engaging in unprecedented overreach.
“Because they dared to speak up against the 'Don’t Say Gay' bill, this is retribution. The governor is a bully and that is what this is all about,” said Democratic state Rep. Geraldine Thompson.
One of the big concerns is that if lawmakers eliminate Disney’s special district, that will cause the two counties that border Disney — Osceola and Orange County — to absorb road work, wastewater, sewage and even the fire department.
It could ultimately lead to a big tax increase not just for Disney but for property owners across those counties.
The Senate bill now heads to the House, which is expected to discuss and vote on it Thursday. If it makes it through the Legislature, the special district would end on June 1, 2023.