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'Don't Say Gay' feud advances with new proposed legislation for Disney government

A statue of Walt Disney and Micky Mouse stand near the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. on Jan. 9, 2019.
John Raoux
/
AP
A statue of Walt Disney and Micky Mouse stand near the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. on Jan. 9, 2019.

Many consider the move punishment for the company's public opposition to a law that bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and lessons deemed not age appropriate.

Florida lawmakers will move to increase state control of Walt Disney World's private government, according to a notice published Friday, the latest development in a feud over a law critics have dubbed “Don't Say Gay.”

The notice posted on the Osceola County website says the Republican-controlled statehouse will take up legislation changing the structure and powers of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the 55-year-old Disney government is known.

A bill has not yet been filed detailing exactly what changes would be under consideration. The notice serves as a procedural step in what has become a closely watched process between Disney and Florida.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last year signed legislation that would dissolve the Disney government in June 2023, a move aimed at punishing the company for its public opposition to a law that bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and lessons deemed not age appropriate.

Additionally, Disney said it would suspend political donations in the state and that it would support organizations working to oppose the education law.

DeSantis and statehouse Republicans slammed Disney, saying the entertainment giant had become a purveyor of so-called woke ideologies that are inappropriate for children.

The squabble marked a rare moment of discord between the state and Disney, one of Florida's largest employers and a major political donor. It also provided another front in an ongoing culture war that has made DeSantis one of the nation's most popular Republicans.

The creation of Reedy Creek district was instrumental in Disney's decision to build near Orlando in the 1960s. Having a separate government allows the company to provide zoning, fire protection, utilities and infrastructure services on its sprawling property.

The language of Friday's notice aligns with assurances Republican lawmakers and DeSantis have made regarding the district's future, including a pledge that the district's debts and bond obligations would not fall to local county governments.

The notice also says the legislation would intend to increase state accountability of the district, change how its governing body is selected, and revise permitting rules and the district’s regulatory frameworks, among other things.

“Disney will no longer control its own government, will live under the same laws as everyone else, will be responsible for their outstanding debts, and will pay their fair share of taxes,” Taryn Fenske, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, said in a written statement. “Imposing a state-controlled board will also ensure that Orange County cannot use this issue as a pretext to raise taxes on Orange County residents.”

The Legislature is set to meet for its next regular session in March.