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Florida Senate Strips Disney of Self-Government Over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Critics

The Florida Senate voted on Wednesday strip the Walt Disney Company of special privileges in regulating and maintaining 38 square miles of central Florida, home to its six theme parks and resorts.

The 23-16 vote on SB 4 came a day after Governor Ron DeSantis said he wants the Legislature to repeal the governance structure for Disney properties in Florida.

The entertainment giant was caught up in the election-year culture war when its CEO pledged to work to repeal the Parental Rights in Education Act – which opponents decried as the “Don’t don’t say gay.

As lawmakers debated the measure, the DeSantis campaign for governor sent in a fundraising pitch stating that Disney had chosen to fight “the wrong guy” and for contributors to “join the fight against corruption.” democratic machine and awaken the leaders of Disney”.

Democrats protested Republicans’ rush to punish the state’s largest private employer for political speech that degraded the legislative process.

“With all due respect, this is not a meaningful legislative review. It’s a punishment. This is political theater, and we are better than that,” said Sen. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee.

DeSantis vs. Disney:

Sen. Jennifer Bradley’s R-Green Cove measure includes a carrot-and-stick approach in that it won’t go into effect until June 2023, enough time for Disney, in the words of the sponsor. of the House, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard, to reconsider his criticism of the Florida law.

“It’s a bit like parents imposing restrictions on their children. Clean up your act, apologize, say you’re sorry, and agree to change your behavior. Maybe you’ll get your phone or other privileges back” , observed Ausley.

At issue is the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special district established in 1967 that provides Disney with unprecedented tax and regulatory authority to build an entertainment empire that has become the world’s number one tourist attraction.

The House and Senate repeal sponsors argue that Disney is not in compliance with a 1997 law that required districts to seek recodification. Disney would have a year to put its paperwork in order and ask the legislature to reauthorize Reedy Creek.

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“Everyone in this room knows it’s not going to happen”

Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Fort Lauderdale, complained during the debate that the Legislative Assembly was wasting everyone’s time.

If Reedy Creek were dissolved, he pointed out, Orange and Osceola counties would have to shoulder more than $1 billion in debt and be responsible for maintaining a network of roads and facilities. wastewater treatment plant, as well as a 3,000-member fire and paramedic team.

“Everyone in this room knows that’s not going to happen,” Pizzo said of saddled two counties with billions in debt.

Pizzo told Bradley he was sorry she had to “do some penance” for voting no against “Don’t Say Gay” by sponsoring Disney’s repeal measure.

Addressing the Republican majority, he said they struggled to explain to people what lawmakers are doing in Tallahassee: “When we’re here for special sessions, we get spoon-fed bills that none of you didn’t write, that neither of you had any input on, then have to pass.

Bradley responded that the Legislature will make sure the “parade of horribles” described by Democrats does not happen.

Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson said Disney and the state will take a “deep dive” over the next year to prepare for the dissolution of Reedy Creek.

“The folks at Disney are going to get their legal team together. They’re going to meet with our legal team, the House, the Senate, and the governor’s office. We’re going to get the teams together to start coming up with a plan,” Simpson said.

Rep. Spencer Roach, R-Fort Myers, has lobbied to review the Reedy Creek layout because he believes it gives Disney an unfair advantage over other theme parks.

“I have a theme park in my district. It’s the oldest and oldest tourist amusement center in southwest Florida, called Shell Factory. They would like to have their own government, but that’s not It’s not,” Roach said, portraying the battle as one between a “cockroach and a mouse.”

The House accepted the Senate bill on Wednesday afternoon, and Speaker Chris Sprows said the chambers would consider it Thursday morning.

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Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera