Florida Legislature Votes to Abolish Disney’s Self-Governing Orlando District

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The Florida Legislature voted Thursday to terminate Disney’s self-governing district in Orlando, in a move intended to retaliate for the company’s opposition to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

The House of Representatives approved the bill on a vote of 70-38, a day after the measure passed through the state Senate. The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The bill would dissolve the 40-square-mile district that Disney controls, called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as of June 1, 2023.

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DeSantis has taken aim at “special privileges” for Disney, since the company announced its opposition to the Parental Rights in Education law last month. The bill forbids classroom discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade, and it mandates that all discussion in later grades be “age appropriate.” Parents are also given the power to sue school districts over alleged violations.

Disney came out against the law only after an uprising from its own employees, who faulted the company for staying silent in the face of an anti-LGBT agenda. DeSantis countered that the state would not be governed by Disney’s “woke” agenda and that Disney exercised undue influence over the Legislature for decades.

The Legislature created the Reedy Creek district in 1967, giving Disney almost total control over zoning, public services and utilities at the Walt Disney World Resort and its three other Orlando theme parks. The bill was introduced just two days ago, as part of a special session to consider congressional redistricting, and it passed without any analysis of the financial impacts.

Orange and Osceola counties would likely have to assume responsibility for public services in the area. The government would also have to take on the district’s debt, which currently stands at nearly $1 billion.

Scott Randolph, the elected Orange County tax collector, tweeted on Wednesday that eliminating the district would cost the county $163 million per year for services and debt payments.

The move could well face legal challenges. Disney did not issue a comment.

The Legislature also passed a bill to remove a special carve-out for Disney from the state’s social media “censorship” law. The law is intended to regulate social media platforms, but it’s on hold pending a federal lawsuit. Just before it was approved last year, legislators created an exemption for any company that owns a theme park in the state, in a move to protect Disney+. The bill passed on Thursday removes that exemption.

President Biden addressed the controversy at a fundraiser in Seattle on Thursday.

“I respect conservatives,” Biden said. “There’s nothing conservative about deciding you’re going to throw Disney out of its present posture because, Mickey Mouse? In fact, you think we should not be able to say, you know, ‘gay’? I mean, what’s going on here? What the hell is going on here? And it’s just — it’s so — I don’t think this is where the vast majority of the American people are.”

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