On Wednesday, the Florida Senate passed a bill that would repeal a law allowing Walt Disney World to operate a private government over its properties in the state. This will escalate a feud with the entertainment giant in response to the company’s opposition to a new state law limiting discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools, aka “Don’t Say Gay.”

The push to punish Disney came after it announced it would suspend political donations in the state and said it was committed to supporting organizations working to oppose the state’s new law limiting sexual orientation or gender identify instruction in the classroom.

DeSantis and other Republicans have lashed out at Disney and other critics of the law, arguing that the policy is reasonable and that parents, not teachers, should be addressing such topics with children.
The Republican-led Senate voted 23-16 to do away with a special tax district that has allowed Walt Disney Company to self-govern the area of Orlando where its theme park complex has been locates since the late 1960’s.

The bill still has to clear the House of Representatives, which is expected to take up the bill Thursday, before it heads to Governor Ron DeSantis’ desk. In a surprise move, DeSantis asked lawmakers to consider the legislation during a special session he called this week.

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 1960’s. Company officials said they needed autonomy to plan a futuristic city along the theme park. The city never materialized, however; instead it morphed into the Epcot theme park.

The law seeks to eliminate special tax districts including the Reedy Creek Improvement District in Orlando. That structure makes Disney, which is one of the state’s largest private employers, and other landowners responsible for providing services such as fire-fighting, power, water and roads. They in turn get relief from taxes and fees.

The proposal could have huge tax implications for Disney, whose series of theme parks have over the decades transformed Orlando into one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. And Democrats have warned that the move could cause local homeowners to get hit with big tax bills if they absorb bond debt from Disney, although such details are far from clear.

“By doing it this early, we have until next June or July to put this together, so we’re actually giving ourselves more time to be thoughtful,” Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson told reporters after the vote. “I don’t know how the end will come, but I know that this is a very worthy process that we’re taking and I think whatever comes out of it will be better than what we have today.”

The move represents the latest blow in a culture war harnessed by DeSantis as he runs for reelection and bolsters himself as a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate by opposing liberal policies on race, gender and abortion.

“If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy,” DeSantis wrote in a campaign fundraising email Wednesday. “As governor, I was elected to put the people of Florida first, and I will not allow a woke corporation based in California to run our state.”

The minority party in the legislature, Democrats, have railed against the proposal as clear retaliation against a company that has been a major economic driver in the state.

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