Florida Senate Passes Bill to Revoke Disney’s Special Tax and Self-Governing Status in the State

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The Florida Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would end the special tax district privileges in the area where Walt Disney World Resort is located, which is the latest move in a political battle after Disney publicly condemned Florida’s passage of its controversial “Don’t Say Gay” legislation.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Senate passed the bill 23-16. It would end the privileges Disney receives as part of exemptions created in 1967 for an area known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The exemption in effect allows Disney to govern itself on Disney World grounds, including having its own fire department and board of supervisors, as well as its ability to oversee land and environmental regulations. Past estimates have suggested that Disney saves 10s of millions a year in regulations, taxes and fees because of the privileges, according the WSJ, and repealing the exemption could put a big strain on the company. The Reedy Creek district spans Disney World’s four theme parks, two water parks and other hotels and retail outlets in the area.

The bill has not yet passed Florida’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and Gov. Ron DeSantis would still need to sign it. But he earlier this month threatened to re-evaluate Disney’s “special privileges” after calling out Disney as a “woke” corporation and had recently asked Florida’s lawmakers to consider the legislation.

Disney did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment, but declined to comment to the WSJ.

Though Florida in 1967 initially said that it wouldn’t give Disney special treatment as they planned to build their “vacation kingdom” in central Florida, it was only after Disney submitted the proposal for Disney’s Mineral King ski resort (the Country Bear Jamboree was initially developed for this property) that Florida legislatures decided to sweeten the deal, with special incentives and the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

At the time, Disney’s dream for EPCOT, an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, was still very much on the company’s mind. The creation of the RCID would provide at least some of the infrastructure, including governmental jurisdiction and taxing (along with things like a fire department and the ability to build and maintain roadways independently), to make this dream a reality. EPCOT never came to be, although a theme park called EPCOT Center did open on the property in 1982. Still, the special provisions given Disney remain.

Disney last month was embroiled in controversy over its initial silence over the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and when it was found that Disney had given donations to politicians who were sponsors or co-sponsors of the legislation. CEO Bob Chapek ultimately met with DeSantis in the hopes of vetoing the legislation, but after its passage, Disney has paused all political donations, apologized to its LGBTQ+ staff and vowed to fight to repeal the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The “Don’t Say Gay” law, officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill, will now prevent teachers in Florida public schools from holding any classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity. The law goes into effect on July 1.

Drew Taylor contributed to this report.

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