DeSantis floats repealing Disney’s special privileges after company vows to fight Parental Rights in Education bill

As he spars with Disney over legislation meant to protect public school children from lessons that are not age-appropriate, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is mulling what one commentator called the “nuclear option.”

DeSantis has drawn the ire of the Walt Disney Company, which operates Disney World in Florida, over the Parental Rights in Education bill, which he signed into law last week.

The legislation prohibits classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation between kindergarten and third grade. Disney has pledged to fight to repeal the bill, which liberal critics have mislabeled the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Amid his tussle with Disney, DeSantis on Thursday appeared open to a repeal of the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act — which effectively allows Disney to act like a quasi-governmental body within Disney World.

“I would not say that that’d be retaliatory. I mean, the way I view it is, you know, there are certain entities that have exerted a lot of influence through corporate means to generate special privileges in the law,” DeSantis said, WKMG reported. “I don’t think we should have special privileges in the law at all.”

“Someone said Disney has all these special perks,” he also said, according to NBC News. “Should you retaliate against them for them coming out and demagoguing this bill? I don’t believe you ‘retaliate,’ but I think what I would say is, as a matter of first principle, I don’t support special privileges in law just because a company is powerful, and they’ve been able to wield a lot of power.”

So what, exactly, is the Reedy Creek Improvement Act, and why is it important?

Under the law, “The Reedy Creek Improvement District … acts as Walt Disney World’s own government with two cities and land in Orange and Osceola counties,” WKMG reported.

“In effect, they’re their own city out there. They can zone the way they want. They can do things the way they want. They can even build a nuclear power plant if they want,” WKMG political analyst Jim Clark added.

NBC News offered more context:

“In 1967, the Florida legislature created the Reedy Creek Improvement District,” the outlet said. “This governmental district, controlling approximately 25,000 acres, would be responsible for paying the cost of municipal services, including power, fire protection, water, waste management and roads.”

“The establishment of Reedy Creek frees Disney from asking a local planning commission for approval to build new structures or pay governmental impact fees when it builds new structures,” NBC added. “But most important is Reedy Creek’s ability to collect taxes and issue bonds. … That means it can avoid the headaches of local government that often come with asking residents to pay taxes to fund infrastructure.”

According to PJ Media commentator Chris Queen, revoking the Reedy Creek law would be the “nuclear option.”

“Walt Disney World straddles two counties: Orange and Osceola. Revoking Reedy Creek would put that big chunk of Disney back under the jurisdictions of those two counties,” Queen wrote. “Imagine the headache of dealing with not one, but two county authorities.”

“Disney would lose” a huge amount of autonomy and be subjected “to a mind-blowing tangle of local government bureaucracy,” he added.

“Disney installs its own Board of Supervisors over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, and that board implements its own rules and self-taxation over the property, which pays for the services that the district offers,” Queen wrote. “Those taxes would become county taxes that Orange and Osceola Counties would be sure to raise in order to pay for the additional burden of services that the property would impose on the counties.”

If Florida Republicans go nuclear, there could be wider ramifications, too.

“Legislators have carved out all sorts of exceptions to legislation that benefits Walt Disney World and enacted legislation that Disney has lobbied for. From carveouts for social media companies to transportation initiatives, Florida has been good to Disney,” Queen wrote.

“Disney could easily lose a remarkably friendly legislature should Florida’s GOP decide to go nuclear.”

As for the Reedy Creek Improvement Act, DeSantis said it’s up to Florida’s legislature to decide whether to repeal it.

“Me as the governor, I could be presented with changes to that, and I think I’ve said I’d be receptive to that, but ultimately the legislature would have to move forward,” he said, according to WESH.