The Florida legislature will use its special session this week in part to go after laws that have given Disney special privileges—and let Walt Disney World operate as its own local government—Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced Tuesday, as Republicans in the state have taken aim at Disney over its opposition of the state’s HB 1557 law, known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
DeSantis said at a press conference Tuesday the state would amend its special session, which was called to deal with the state’s redistricting maps, to also include “termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968,” including the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Reedy Creek, a special taxing district that was established through the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act, covers Walt Disney World in Florida and essentially allows the theme park to operate as its own city, with control over everything from construction zoning, fire department services, water, roads, building codes and more.
Walt Disney World has operated in that way since the resort opened in 1971, but Florida Republicans raised the possibility of going after Reedy Creek after Disney vowed in March to help repeal HB 1557, which restricts classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.
State Rep. Randy Fine (R) introduced legislation Tuesday that would dissolve special districts established before November 1968—meaning other Florida communities with similar structures, like the retirement community The Villages, won’t be affected—as of June 2023.
DeSantis said Tuesday the special session would also involve “removal of exemptions from the big tech accountability law,” after the state enacted a social media censorship law—currently blocked in court—that had a carve-out for companies with theme parks in order to exempt Disney.
Walt Disney World has not yet responded to a request for comment.
What To Watch For
The special session will start Tuesday and end by Friday, DeSantis said when he first announced it in March. Disney has not yet said whether or how it intends to oppose the legislature’s efforts, though the company has a significant lobbying arm in the state legislature that it’s likely to flex to help thwart any efforts to dissolve Reedy Creek. The company has paused all of its donations to Florida politicians in light of HB 1557, which caused Disney to draw widespread scrutiny for donating to the bill’s sponsors.
“Our Governor is a Fox News performance artist,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D), who represents Orlando, tweeted Tuesday in response to DeSantis expanding the special session, saying it’s a “distraction from erasing black districts” through the state’s redistricting maps. “Meanwhile people can’t afford their rent in FL but let’s do more culture [wars] instead!”
Though Florida Republicans have been eager to go after the special privileges Disney’s been granted by the state legislature, DeSantis has previously said the state will not try to take away the large tax breaks the corporation’s received. There are “no special tax breaks that are Disney-specific that we would contemplate” taking away, the governor said April 1, though the company is receiving up to $570 million in tax breaks for a new office complex it’s opening, the Orlando Sentinel reports, and will be included in corporate tax refunds Florida is set to issue in May.
Disney is being punished for publicly opposing HB 1557, which bans any school instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity” through the third grade, and any discussions about it in older grades if it’s “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” After initially drawing controversy for not opposing the bill strongly enough, Disney said after DeSantis signed the bill into law that said the law “should never” have been passed or enacted, and that its “goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.” That statement set off Republicans in the state and across the country to turn against the company, prompting calls from the Florida GOP to go after Disney, protests outside its theme parks and segments blasting the company in right-wing media.