Disney's special government status pulled by Florida governor DeSantis

Bill revokes Disney World special status to govern its land, public transportation and services

A view of the entrance to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. AFP
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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday signed a bill that strips the Walt Disney Company of its self-governing authority in retaliation for its opposition to a state law that limits the teaching of LGBTQ issues in schools.

The state's Republican-controlled legislature on Thursday gave its final approval to the bill.

It eliminates the special tax district created in 1967 that allows Disney to self-govern a 25,000-acre tract in the Orlando area, where it operates four theme parks, two water parks and 175 miles of roadway.

While the financial impact on the company and the state is uncertain, the change could alter how Disney operates its sprawling Central Florida empire and sour the close relationship it has enjoyed with the state for more than 50 years.

Mr DeSantis, in a surprise move, asked politicians to consider the legislation during a special session he called this week.

The status makes Disney, which is one of the state's largest private employers, and other landowners responsible for providing services such as firefighting, power, water and roads.

In return, they get relief from taxes and fees. The change would go into effect in June 2023.

Monorail tracks and concrete pilings lead to a hotel under construction at Walt Disney World in July 1971. AP

Mr DeSantis, a Republican who is a possible candidate for the 2024 presidential nomination, wants to strike back at Disney for opposing a law that bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for pupils younger than 9.

The governor signed the legislation last month.

The law, which is to go into effect on July 1, also prohibits teaching that "is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate" for older pupils. It is being challenged in court.

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 measure.

It then condemned the legislation and said it would pause all of its political donations in Florida. That set off a storm of condemnation against Disney by many Republicans.

Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Updated: April 22, 2022, 8:38 PM