DeSantis vs. Disney: Florida Gov Signs Bill Dissolving Disney’s Self-Governing Status
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ABOVE: Faithwire.com's Tré Goins-Phillips appeared on the Monday morning edition of CBN's Newswatch to discuss the dust-up between Florida Gov. DeSantis and Disney. Newswatch is seen weekdays on the CBN News Channel.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed a bill to dissolve Walt Disney World’s private government after the entertainment giant opposed a new parental rights law in the state.
The law would eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the 55-year-old 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.
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.
At the bill signing ceremony Friday, DeSantis said Disney lied about the content of the education law but that he viewed the company's vow to fight the law as unacceptable.
"You're a corporation based in Burbank, California, and you're gonna marshal your economic might to attack the parents of my state. We view that as a provocation, and we're going to fight back against that," DeSantis said.
Both houses of the Florida legislature voted to eliminate Disney World's special privileges that had essentially established the Walt Disney Company as its own private government.
This week, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the state legislature to repeal a law that has given Disney World decades of benefits, allowing it to have full control over its properties in the state.
On Thursday, the Florida House of Representatives voted to overturn that law. The Republican-led Florida Senate already voted on Wednesday to eliminate a special tax district that has allowed Walt Disney Co. to govern the land where its theme parks sit, The Wall Street Journal reports. The move comes after Disney began engaging in politics, opposing parental rights legislation that restricts classroom instruction on gender and sexuality to young children.
“Disney and other woke corporations won’t get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer,” DeSantis said on Wednesday. “If we want to keep the Democrat machine and their corporate lapdogs accountable, we have to stand together now.”
The Reedy Creek Improvement District is a private government controlled by Disney World and was set up by the state legislature in 1967 allowing it to provide government services such as zoning, fire protection, utilities, and infrastructure.
The creation of the district, and the control the state gave to 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, but it morphed instead into the EPCOT theme park.
Disney is one of Florida's biggest private employers. Last year, the company said it had more than 80,000 workers in the state.
According to The Journal, under the bill passed by the Senate 23-16 on Wednesday, any special district established before the ratification of the Florida Constitution in 1968, and not renewed since then, would be dissolved on June 1, 2023.
The measure would affect about six districts across the state, but Reedy Creek is the only district with a high-profile company.
Disney could pursue another special district after the Reedy Creek district is dissolved.
"It is difficult to estimate what a dissolution of Reedy Creek would cost Disney over time," said Michael Rinaldi, head of U.S. Local Government Ratings at Fitch Ratings told The Journal. It "would eliminate access to tax-exempt debt issuance via Reedy Creek, potentially costing Disney and other landowners within the district more to finance various projects," he added.
CBN News has reached out to the Walt Disney Company for comment. We'll post it here if we hear back.
DeSantis vs. Disney: Latest Volleys in Feud Over Parental Rights in Education Law
The move by DeSantis and the Florida Senate are the latest volleys in a feud between the governor and the once-family-friendly entertainment giant over the Sunshine State's Parental Rights in Education law.
As CBN News has reported, Florida's Parental Rights in Education bill says schools can't teach curriculum on sexual orientation and gender identity to very young children from kindergarten to third grade. Leftist groups and biased media outlets have attacked the measure, mischaracterizing it and mislabeling it as the "Don't Say Gay" bill. The bill does not ban the word "gay" from classrooms, even in casual discussions on either topic.
DeSantis signed the bill into law on March 28. The move prompted an official response from Disney which is now officially engaging in political activism, opposing the parental rights bill and mislabeling it.
"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," a spokesperson for Disney said in a statement. "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. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country."
Earlier in March, DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, slammed Disney saying, "In Florida, our policies have got to be based on the best interest of Florida citizens, not on the musing of woke corporations."
Disney had remained neutral on the bill, even making political donations to both Republicans and Democrats in the legislature. But then LGBTQ advocates who work for the company criticized Disney CEO Bob Chapek for what they said was his slow response to speaking out against the bill. Some walked off the job in protest.
DeSantis insists the policy is reasonable and says parents, not teachers, should broach subjects of sexual orientation and gender identity with children at an age-appropriate time.
Democrats were quick to criticize the governor's move as retribution for the company's opposition to the education bill. Some pointed out that Disney has been a major economic driver in the state.
"What world are we living in right now?" asked Democratic state Sen. Audrey Gibson. "It's the freedom state of Florida. If they disagree with the governor, he brings out the Gatling gun."
As CBN's Faithwire reported Monday, the majority of Americans agree with DeSantis and support banning educators from teaching very young children about sexual orientation, gender identity, and transgender issues, according to a new poll.
The Golden/TIPP poll, which surveyed 1,305 adults from April 6-8, found 57% of Americans "agree strongly" or "agree somewhat" with Florida's Parental Rights in Education bill, which prohibits educators from teaching kids in pre-K through third-grade classrooms about sexual orientation and gender identity.
When broken down along ideological lines, 73% of Republicans, 54% of independents, and 51% of Democrats agreed with the boundaries established by the legislation. Just 42% of those who described themselves as "liberals" backed the bill while 80% of those describing themselves as "conservatives" supported the law.
The Golden/TIPP survey represents an increase in support for the Florida bill. A poll conducted in late March by Morning Consult found just 50% approved of the law.
All of this comes just days after another poll, this one conducted by the Trafalgar Group and the Convention of the States, found nearly 70% of likely American voters said they are now less likely to do business with Disney as a result of the iconic company's vociferous condemnation of the parental rights law in Florida.
"Disney is about to learn that attempting to ideologically and sexually groom our children is a recipe for brand destruction, costing the company massively in both customers and revenue," said Convention of the States President Mark Meckler, adding he believes there is "a parents' revolt movement … growing stronger every day."
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