April 20 (UPI) — The Florida Senate on Wednesday voted to approve a measure to dissolve one of Disney’s special taxing districts in the state at the urging of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Republican-controlled chamber voted 23-16 to eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which allows Disney to self-govern the area around its Walt Disney World theme park near Orlando.
Ron DeSantis called a special legislative session for redistricting and then asked lawmakers to consider eliminating Disney’s special districts enacted before 1968.
The governor’s move came after Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law that critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law after many employees protested his silence on the bill early last month. It already had been approved by the state Legislature.
On Wednesday, lawmakers voted to move forward with S.B. 4C, originally filed by Republican state Sen. Jennifer Bradley, which would dismantle the Reedy Creek district by June 1, 2023.
Months after Walt Disney’s death in December 1966, the governor and state lawmakers granted Disney, under the direction of Walt Disney’s brother, Roy, establishment of the Reedy Creek Improvement District to govern property that eventually would become Disney World and a city that never was built.
Florida has a total of 1,844 special districts, and the Reedy Creek Improvement District is the largest of the six that Disney controls, spanning 25,000 acres and two counties.
Republican State Rep. Randy Fine filed H.B. 3C, a companion to the Senate bill, after he said Disney “chose to kick the hornet’s nest” by opposing the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
He said the bill would give Orange and Osceola counties access to power previously denied by the state, but acknowledged it was singling out Disney.
“I will say this, you got me on one thing. This bill does target one company. It targets the Walt Disney Co.,” Fine said.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said he believes the bill was motivated by “the politics of the day” and said he feared it would harm taxpayers in his district who have been shielded from funding Disney’s municipal services.
“That has worked to the benefit of all Orange County residents because that has not been a tax burden to all of our residents,” he said.
Democrats, such as State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, have expressed concern about DeSantis’ seemingly lashing out at the company for opposing his political moves.
“This bill is very frightening. It is extremely frightening because we all know that this bill is political retribution,” Smith said.
“You speak out, if you have an opinion about what’s happening in the Florida Legislature … [and] you will be punished.”