By Team

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The Florida Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would dissolve Walt Disney World’s special tax district which allows it to operate its own government.

On Senate Bill 4-C, legislators voted 23-16 to do away with special governing districts established in the 1960s. This will dissolve Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District and a handful of other special tax districts across the state.

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The House is expected to give final approval to the measure Thursday.

Should Gov. Ron DeSantis sign it into law, such special districts would be dissolved effective June 1, 2023.

Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District could be re-established later, but likely with changes.

The Senate also voted 24-15, along party lines, to eliminate an exemption for theme parks in a 2021 law crafted to punish social-media companies that strip users from platforms or flag users’ posts. A federal judge last year issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law from being enforced, saying it was “riddled with imprecision and ambiguity.”

An appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case this month.

The two measures were tacked onto this week’s special session on redistricting by DeSantis. They were aimed at punishing the Walt Disney Co. for criticizing a controversial new law restricting instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools — a measure critics have dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill.

Disney issued a statement saying the legislation “should never have passed.”

The potential dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District could have far-reaching impacts. The district, created in 1967, covers roughly 25,000 acres in Orange and Osceola counties and oversees issues such as land use and traditional functions of local government such as fire protection and water and wastewater service.

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The five other special districts slated for elimination across the state are the Bradford County Development Authority, the Sunshine Water Control District in Broward County, the Eastpoint Water and Sewer District in Franklin County, the Hamilton County Development Authority and the Marion County Law Library.

House sponsor Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, said the proposal is designed to address all six special districts, which would be able to ask the Legislature next year to be re-established. But he acknowledged that the controversy about Disney’s stance on the gender-identity and sexual-orientation law helped spur the Legislature to look at the special districts.

“When you poke the bear or you kick the bees’ nest, sometimes issues come out,” Fine told the House State Affairs Committee.

Democrats on the committee argued that the proposal was retaliation for Disney’s opposition to the education measure.

Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami, called the bill “un-American.”

“Punishing a company for daring to speak against a governor’s radical-right political agenda is precisely the kind of thing we see in countries like Russia and China,” Joseph said.

The Republican-dominated Legislature’s willingness to take on Disney, a colossal tourism draw for the state and one of Florida’s largest employers, sent ripples through the lobbying and business communities in Tallahassee.

But state GOP leaders’ backing of DeSantis, who is running for re-election this year and is widely viewed as a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, illustrates the iron-clad grasp on power the governor wields and his unflinching determination to flex his political muscle when crossed.

“To govern by revenge, to govern for punishment is not governing. It’s authoritarianism. It’s fascism,” said Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, during a meeting of the Senate Community Affairs Committee.

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