June 20, 2024

Florida legislators passed a bill on Thursday that would revoke Walt Disney Co’s special tax status in a move widely seen as tit-for-tat for the company’s opposition to a new “don’t say gay” state law limiting discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in schools.

The bill now heads to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis, who is all but guaranteed to sign it.

The Republican-led state house in Florida voted 70-38 to do away with a special tax district created by a 1967 law that allows Disney to self-govern the roughly 25,000-acre Orlando area where its Walt Disney World theme park complex is located. The state Senate passed the measure on Wednesday.

DeSantis, in a surprise move, had asked lawmakers to consider the legislation during a special session he called this week. He did not immediately comment on the bill’s passage on Thursday.

“If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy,” DeSantis wrote in an email to supporters on Wednesday, adding, “I will not allow a woke corporation based in California to run our state.”

The law would eliminate a handful of special tax districts including the Reedy Creek Improvement District that covers about 25,000 acres in Orange and Osceola counties.

That structure makes Disney, one of the state’s largest private employers, and other landowners responsible for providing services such as firefighting, power, water and roads. They in turn get relief from taxes and fees.

The change would go into effect in June 2023.

In a statement to CNN, the Democratic state representative Fentrice Driskell said, “It’s going to cost the government in Orange county and Osceola counties and therefore the taxpayers billions of dollars, I’m talking an additional tax burden that’s estimated $2,200 to $2,800 per family.”

Disney came under fire last month by many in the LGBTQ+ community, including some Disney employees, for initially failing to take a public stand against the “don’t say gay” measure, then condemned the legislation and said it would pause all its political donations in Florida.

That set off a storm of condemnation against the company by many Republicans.

DeSantis, a Republican who is a potential candidate for his party’s 2024 presidential nomination, wants to strike back at Disney for its opposition to a law that bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for students in kindergarten through third grade.

The governor signed the legislation, dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill by opponents, last month.

The law, which is to take effect on 1 July, also prohibits such teaching that “is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” for older students. It is being challenged in court.

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Disney to lose special tax status for opposing Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ bill