Florida governor Ron DeSantis targets Disney ‘special district’

Reedy Creek Improvement District allows Walt Disney World to operate as private government

Walt Disney World, in Orlando, Florida. AFP

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has called on the state’s legislature to repeal a law that allows Walt Disney World to operate as a private government in the state.

Mr DeSantis and Disney have been locked in a feud over a state law passed in March barring school lessons on sexual orientation. Disney opposed the measure.

As politicians returned to the Capitol for a special legislative session on congressional redistricting, the governor issued a proclamation that allows the Republican-controlled statehouse to take up bills eliminating Disney’s self-governing district.

Republicans quickly filed proposals to do so.

“Yes, they will be considering the congressional map, but they also will be considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida before 1968 — and that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District,” the Republican governor told a press conference on Tuesday.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District was established by the state in 1967 to facilitate the construction of Disney World in Orlando. The area is about 100 square kilometres and includes two cities in central Florida.

The district currently runs as its own government, providing fire protection, emergency and planning services. It also collects taxes.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis displays the signed Parental Rights in Education flanked by elementary school students during a news conference. AP

The move by Mr DeSantis to punish the entertainment giant comes after Disney vowed it would support efforts to strike down the Parental Rights in Education law, otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Disney is one of Florida’s biggest private employers. Last year, the company said it had more than 60,000 workers in the state. LGBTQ advocates who work for the company criticised chief executive Bob Chapek for what they said was his slow response in speaking out against the bill. Some walked off the job in protest.

Mr Chapek later apologised to the company’s LGBTQ employees.

Mr DeSantis has repeatedly lashed out at Disney and critics of the law, gaining considerable attention in conservative media spheres.

He insists the policy is reasonable and says parents, not teachers, should broach subjects of sexual orientation and gender identity with children.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: April 20, 2022, 8:32 PM