State lawmakers target Disney as tensions mount

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Disney’s special place in Florida began long before the rope dropped for the first time at the Magic Kingdom. Now that special place could be coming to an end.


Just two years after Walt Disney and his brother Roy joined Florida Gov. Haydon Burnes at a press conference to confirm Disney was coming to Florida, the Florida Legislature met to give Disney one the main things Walt wanted: autonomy. The legislature created the Reedy Creek Improvement District, giving Disney essentially its own government.

Now, amid tensions between the company and state leadership, that autonomy could be gone.

READ: New York firm buys resort on Walt Disney World property

“Yesterday was the 2nd meeting in a week with fellow legislators to discuss a repeal of the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act, which allows Disney to act as its own government,” wrote Rep. Spence Roach (R-Fort Myers) on Twitter. “If Disney wants to embrace woke ideology, it seems fitting that they should be regulated by Orange County.”

The Reedy Creek Improvement District gives Disney the right to govern itself like a city. If it’s repealed, the theme park’s land would fall under Orange and Osceola counties, since Disney stretches into both counties.

“I don’t see how in the world he’s going to be able to dismantle it,” said Senator Linda Stewart (D - Orange County).  “It would never get through the Senate and it’s unlikely to get through the House.”

READ: Disney cast members to stage walkout over controversial Parental Rights in Education bill

Stewart’s comments echo those of other Senators contacted by Eyewitness News on Wednesday who cast doubt on the seriousness of the idea for both political and practical reasons.

“This seems like saber rattling in order to draw some headlines,” said former Republican State Representative Bobby Olszewski, whose district once included the majority of Disney.  “I can tell you they have done a lot for our state and for our local community, so it is surprising that this is something that is coming up right now.”

READ: Disney updates policy after video shows high school drill team chanting ‘scalp ‘em’ in Magic Kingdom

Disney has been the focus of criticism for weeks after company CEO Bob Chapek said on an investor call in early March that he had called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to express the company’s “disappointment and concern” with the recently passed Parental Rights in Education bill, which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. In the wake of those comments, DeSantis blasted Disney saying the company had “crossed a line.”  The move by Disney to publicly oppose the legislation, only after it passed, angered Florida Democrats too, who pulled their annual meeting from the theme park.

The legislature is currently out of session, and no bill has been filed to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District or target any of the other tax breaks the state has tailored for Disney in the last several decades. That includes more than $570 million Disney is set to receive in the coming years to relocate workers from California to Lake Nona.

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