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Florida moves to curtail Disney World's powers as "Don't Say Gay" feud advances

Disney World may not lose special tax status
Disney World's special tax status may not be in jeopardy, reporter says 06:27

Florida lawmakers will move to increase state control of Walt Disney World's private government, according to a notice published Friday, the latest development in a feud over what law critics have dubbed "Don't Say Gay."

The notice posted on the Osceola County website says the Republican-controlled statehouse will take up legislation changing the structure and powers of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the 55-year-old Disney government is known.

A bill has not yet been filed detailing exactly what changes would be under consideration, but the notice serves as a procedural step in what has become a closely watched process between Disney and Florida.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last year signed legislation that would dissolve the Disney government in June 2023. The move was intended to punish the company for its public opposition to a law that bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as well as lessons deemed not age appropriate. Disney also said it would suspend political donations in the state and that it would support organizations working to oppose the education law.

DeSantis and statehouse Republicans slammed the entertainment giant, accusing it of pushing so-called woke ideologies that are inappropriate for children. 

Political fallout

The feud marked an escalation in an ongoing culture war that has made DeSantis one of the nation's most popular Republicans and a likely 2024 GOP presidential candidate. Disney is a major political donor and one of Florida's largest employers, with more than 60,000 workers in the state.

The creation of Reedy Creek district was instrumental in Disney's decision to build near Orlando in the 1960s. Having a separate government allows the company to provide zoning, fire protection, utilities and infrastructure services on its sprawling property.

"The corporate kingdom has come to an end," Taryn Fenske, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, said in a written statement. "Disney will no longer control its own government, will live under the same laws as everyone else, will be responsible for their outstanding debts, and will pay their fair share of taxes. Imposing a state-controlled board will also ensure that Orange County cannot use this issue as a pretext to raise taxes on Orange County residents."

The language of Friday's notice aligns with assurances Republican lawmakers and DeSantis have made regarding the district's future, including a pledge that the district's debts and bond obligations would not fall to local county governments.

The notice also says the legislation would intend to increase state accountability of the district, change how its governing body is selected, and revise permitting rules and the district's regulatory frameworks, among other things.

The Legislature is set to meet for its next regular session in March.

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