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Florida governor signs bill stripping Disney of self-governing authority

Stock Markets Apr 22, 2022 04:31PM ET
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2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Florida Governor Ron Desantis speaks during a campaign rally by U.S. President Donald Trump at Pensacola International Airport in Pensacola, Florida, U.S., October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo 2/2

By Maria Caspani and Dawn Chmielewski

(Reuters) - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday signed a bill that strips Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) Co of self-governing authority at its Orlando-area parks in retaliation for its opposition to a new law that limits the teaching of LGBTQ issues in schools.

The Republican-controlled legislature on Thursday approved the bill, which will eliminate the special governing jurisdiction that allows the company to operate Walt Disney World Resort as its own city. Within the 25,000-acre tract, it operates four theme parks, two water parks and 175 miles of roadway.

Disney's special status "was really an aberration," DeSantis said at a news conference where he signed the bill into law. "No individual or no company in Florida is treated this way."

Disney did not immediately comment on the bill's signing.

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.

The governor on Friday said Disney would pay more taxes as a result of the law but did not elaborate.

DeSantis is a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate who has courted conservative voters on issues such as immigration, abortion and LGBTQ rights.

With his latest move against Disney, DeSantis is attempting to burnish his conservative credentials by showing he is willing to stand up to what he described as a "woke" company based in California that does not share Florida's values.

Disney initially did not publicly oppose the LGBTQ legislation last month, prompting criticism from that community and some employees. The company later condemned the law and said it would suspend political donations in Florida pending a review.

The law, dubbed the "don't say gay" bill by critics, bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for children in kindergarten through third grade. DeSantis backed the measure, saying it would give parents more control over their children's education.

Opponents call it a thinly veiled attempt to marginalize gay and transgender students, or the children of queer parents.

At a fundraiser in Seattle on Thursday, President Joe Biden weighed in on the clash between Disney and Florida Republicans. He said efforts to impose such constraints "have nothing to do with traditional conservative doctrine."

"I respect conservatives. There's nothing conservative about deciding you're going to throw Disney out of its present posture because Mickey Mouse ... should ... not be able to say, you know, gay."

While the bill appears to be an attack on Disney and sprawling Orlando theme parks, experts say the financial impact of the legislation on the company and the state is unclear at this stage.

DeSantis rushed the bill through the statehouse, pushing it through within three days of a special session, but it will not take effect until June 2023, giving the two sides time to adjust to the new reality.

The law dissolves the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was created in the 1960s to lure Disney World to the state, after the much smaller Disneyland had become a hit theme park in California.

For more than half a century the district has enabled Disney to function like a county government, providing services such as fire-fighting, power, water and roads within Orange and Osceola counties. In turn Disney can issue bonds with tax advantages to pay for improvements.

Disney is a major political contributor in the state. In the 2020 election cycle, the company donated $4.8 million in total, including campaign funds to more than 100 individual Florida legislative members, some of whom sponsored Thursday’s legislation, state records show.

It is unclear if the state or the company will be harmed most now that the bill has become law.

The Walt Disney Resort paid $780.3 million in state and local taxes in 2021, according to a fact sheet commemorating the 50th anniversary of the theme park. Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph said the legislation will punish local taxpayers more than Disney.

Florida governor signs bill stripping Disney of self-governing authority
 

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Comments (6)
Alan Rice
Alan Rice Apr 24, 2022 1:22PM ET
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The Problem(s !!) with electing great BUSINESSMEN instead of great ADMINISTRATORS.
Todd Gray
Todd Gray Apr 22, 2022 8:26PM ET
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The liberals are no less in bed with business than the Republicans. It's just a different circuit of suitors. Bidens been a Senator in a state that's been a corporate tax haven his entire time in the seat. If he was anti corporation he would of lost reelection decades ago. He's in a big bed with them.
Alan Rice
Alan Rice Apr 22, 2022 8:26PM ET
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Hey Todd,Not so. Most Dems, in contrast to Trumpublicans, at the least, ASPIRE TO less business interference with ETHICAL Government. (But yeah. Both major parties have been stinkin' lately.)
Chris Cummins
Chris Cummins Apr 22, 2022 5:12PM ET
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Confusing as GOP was big on Citizens United so that corporations could give them all of the money and get involved but when that corporation wants something in return and it doesn't fall in line with your agenda you get mad. SNOWFLAKES!!!!! Not sure who the bigger snowflake is, Trump or Desantis.
John Laurens
John Laurens Apr 22, 2022 5:07PM ET
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100% necessary to keep the cretins away from our children.
Chris Cummins
Chris Cummins Apr 22, 2022 5:07PM ET
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Why are all Republicans so interested in *********** Makes you wonder.....
Giang Geringer
Giang Geringer Apr 22, 2022 5:07PM ET
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I have no respect for that bull *******so called republican interest! Worst governor ever! It’s just about his own interest!
CS Greer
CSGreer Apr 22, 2022 4:11PM ET
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It's amazing to me that a corporation is granted "self-governing authority" in the first place.
Rob Stone
Rob Stone Apr 22, 2022 3:44PM ET
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go woke go broke!!!!!
 
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