Florida Lawmakers Repeal Walt Disney World District After ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Opposition, DeSantis Signs Bill

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed off on the repeal effort to strip Walt Disney World of certain tax breaks.
FILE - The newly painted Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World is seen with the the crest to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the theme park Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.  The idea was presented to Florida lawmakers 55 years ago: Let Disney form its own government and in exchange it would create a futuristic city of tomorrow. That city never materialized, but Walt Disney World became an economic juggernaut, and its government retained unprecedented powers. Five decades later,   Gov. Ron DeSantis is asking lawmakers to end Disney’s government in a move that throws a wrench into decades of symbiotic relations between the company and state government.(AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
Walt Disney World

Updated, April 22: Florida governor Ron DeSantis has signed legislation that removes the special district covering Walt Disney World from the Walt Disney Company. The move is expected to have a financial impact on Florida residents to compensate for the district’s debts. At a lectern, DeSantis claimed that Disney aimed to “inject sexuality into the programming that is provided to our youngest kids.”

“I’m just not comfortable having that type of agenda get special treatment in my state,” he said. “I just can’t do it.”

He added, “We have everything thought out. Don’t let anyone tell you that Disney is going to get a tax cut out of this. They are going to pay more taxes as a result of this.”

Earlier, Published April 21: Following its flip-flopping over the “Don’t Say Gay” law, the Walt Disney Company is set to lose its Florida footing as a special district for Walt Disney World.

The Florida House voted 70-38 on a bill to dissolve Disney’s tax incentivized, self-governing district as well as other special districts established before 1968. The Senate passed the measure April 20. Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the bill.

Walt Disney World has maintained the district for 55 years. DeSantis accused Disney of going “woke.” During a press conference, DeSantis warned that “Disney has alienated a lot of people now” amid the controversy surrounding Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law banning discussions of sexual orientation in primary schools through third grade.

“The political influence they’re used to wielding, I think has dissipated,” DeSantis added, as reported by the New York Post. “And so the question is, why would you want to have special privileges in the law at all?”

Walt Disney Co. financially backed supporters of the bill, including DeSantis, but later denounced the bill’s passing. The conglomerate vowed to repeal the law in an official statement on behalf of the company.

“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law,” the statement read. “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.”

The statement followed CEO Bob Chapek’s apology about how the company handled the “Don’t Say Gay” backlash.

“It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights,” Chapek wrote in a staff memo distributed by Disney. “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”

DeSantis countered, via the local NBC news channel: “If the people who held Harvey Weinstein up oppose us on parents’ rights, I wear that like a badge of honor. I’m not backing down.”

The Walt Disney World Florida property has been covered by the Reedy Creek Improvement District since 1967, giving it self-governance over land use and environmental issues and allowing it to float tax-free municipal bonds. Democrats said that the repeal of the district could saddle Osceola and Orange counties with approximately $1 billion in bond debt.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis tweeted that his state is “ready for Mountain Disney” if Walt Disney Co. opts to exit Florida. Polis added he is willing to “grant full asylum to Mickey and Minnie” after “Florida’s authoritarian socialist attacks on the private sector.”

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