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Florida House Votes To Axe Walt Disney's Special Taxing District

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) — The Walt Disney Co. is zero for two in the Florida legislature's special session after the House voted on a bill that would dissolve Disney World's private government.

The vote handed Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis a victory in his feud with the entertainment giant over its opposition to a measure that critics have dubbed the " Don't Say Gay " law.

The move could have huge tax implications for Disney, whose series of theme parks have transformed Orlando into one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, and serves to further sour the relationship between the Republican-led government and a major political player in the state.

For DeSantis, the attack on Disney is his latest salvo in a culture war waged over policies involving race, gender and the coronavirus, battles that have made him one of the most popular GOP politicians in the country and a likely 2024 presidential candidate.

The dispute with Disney began with the company's criticism of the new Parental Rights in Education law which bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade as well as instruction that is not "age appropriate or developmentally appropriate."

In March, Disney said it would suspend political donations in the state and added that it would in turn support organizations working to oppose the new law. DeSantis and his fellow Republicans then lashed out at Disney, and have defended the law as reasonable.

"Disney and other woke corporations won't get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer," DeSantis wrote in a fundraising pitch Wednesday. "If we want to keep the Democrat machine and their corporate lapdogs accountable, we have to stand together now."

The bill, passed by the legislature on Thursday, would eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the Disney government is known, as well as a handful of other similar districts by June 2023. The measure does allow for the districts to be reestablished, leaving an avenue to renegotiate its future. It now moves to DeSantis' office to be signed into law.

Democrats have criticized the proposal as clear retaliation against the company and warned that local homeowners could get hit with big tax bills if they have to absorb bond debt from Disney — although such details are far from clear.

Disney is one of Florida's biggest private employers, last year saying it had more than 60,000 workers in the state. It is not immediately clear how the company or local governments around its properties would be affected if the district was dissolved.

The creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, and the control it gave Disney over 27,000 acres in Florida, was a crucial element in the company's plans to build near Orlando in the 1960s. Company officials said they needed autonomy to plan a futuristic city along with the theme park. The city never materialized, however; instead, it morphed into the Epcot theme park.

(© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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