Governor DeSantis vs. Disney

By Ana Perez, 9th Grade

The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill is a controversial piece of legislation that was recently signed by Governor Ron DeSantis. This bill prohibits teachers from discussing topics related to sexual orientation with school children from kindergarten until third grade. The bill also allows parents to decide what is appropriate for the students to learn, and if the policy is violated, parents have the right to sue the school district. The legislation had a mixed response with some approving of it since it would prevent children from learning what parents deem to be ‘inappropriate.’ However, some condemned the bill since it would undermine support for LGBT children in schools. Thus, Disney CEO Bob Chapek met privately with Governor DeSantis on March 9th to oppose the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill. Now, DeSantis is targeting Walt Disney World, Florida’s premiere tourist hotspot.

Governor DeSantis and the Disney corporation also had a good relationship prior to 2022, since Disney had donated $50,000 to DeSantis for the 2020 elections and DeSantis worked to exempt Disney from a law designed to crack down on tech companies. But now, DeSantis wants to take away Disney’s special status because of the company’s criticism of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill and other policies that he has criticized in the past, such as the facemask requirement for employees inside the theme park. 

The governor is now urging lawmakers in Florida to consider legislation to dismantle most special protections that Disney has. In a previous press conference, he stated, “Yes, they will be considering the congressional map, but they also will be considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968 and that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District.” Representative Randy Fine (R-Brevard) is carrying the bill HB 3 to dissolve Reedy Creek and five other counties (Bradford County Development Authority, Sunshine Water Control District, Eastpoint Water, and Sewer District, Hamilton County Development Authority, and Marion County Law Library). He tweeted that his bill was to “remind” Disney that it’s a “guest in Florida.” However, any independent special district dissolved would have the ability to be reestablished at a later date if it complies with the requirements of the chamber.

And what exactly is the Reedy Creek Improvement District? Then-governor Claude Kirk established the Reedy Creek Improvement Center in 1967, allowing Disney to have their own government for them to smoothly operate Walt Disney World. While Disney is located in the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, the park is operated under Reedy Creek. If the legislature is terminated, the power would most likely be transferred to Orange County or Osceola County. In that case, there’s a chance that taxpayers in those counties would see a tax increase since the millions that Disney spends on their fire protection, their infrastructure, and their contract with the sheriff’s department would be paid for by the counties instead.

Disney, however, is prepared to fight back against DeSantis. Disney has at least over 30 lobbyists (which are those who try to lawfully influence the actions of government officials) in Tallahassee County and they invest millions in Republicans in the state. Disney has also prepared their lawyers to fight against the bill in court. The consequences of abolishing Reedy Creek could be disastrous considering the impact that Disney has on the state. The sales tax collected solely on Disney World tickets in 2018 totaled over $409 million – more than the entire budget for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs. The company employs 80,000 Floridians and at least 400,000 jobs can be traced back to the large economic impact produced by the theme park and resorts. On the other hand, more than $200 million in taxes now collected by Reedy Creek would be ‘relocated’ to the Orange and Osceola counties, which could be invested in housing, education, and infrastructure according to Representative Spenser Roach (R-Fort Myers). Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-Hillsborough) that this would add an additional tax burden of $2,200 to $2,800 per family.

There have been various reactions from several politicians. For example, House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Tampa) approved of the bill since it showed that DeSantis is willing “to buck the traditional elite establishment in corporate America. They’re trying to control everything that happens in society, and that’s wildly inappropriate.” Representative Dan Daley (D-Sunrise) said that he is willing to have a conversation on corporations and taxes, but that cannot happen with HB 3. “Let’s be honest, the intent of this bill doesn’t have anything to do with tax revenue for the county or any other municipality for that matter. It’s about getting back at Disney for them stepping up and saying, ‘Hey, we’re not just going to take this on the chin. We have a voice and we’re going to exercise that voice whether Ron DeSantis likes it or not.” 

The Senate voted to dissolve Reedy Creek on a 23 – 16 vote. The Senate also voted to eliminate Disney’s protection from the Big Tech law with a 24 to 15 vote. On April 21st, the bill passed with a 78 – 23 vote in the Florida House, without any final debate, and came as several Democratic members protested against the congressional redistricting map, which would eliminate various seats for several African American representatives. Now that the bill is passed, the district is likely to be dissolved on June 1st, 2023. 



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