Special legislative session begins in Florida to strip Disney of its special governing status

(The Center Square) – Gov. Ron DeSantis called the Florida Legislature into a special session on Tuesday to amend a state statute to strip Walt Disney Company of its self-governing status.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, DeSantis said the legislature would be convening to consider terminating all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968, including the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which allows the Walt Disney Company to act as a self-governing authority like a county government. He said “making sure that we make the termination of those special districts is very important.”

The special session is scheduled to extend no later than 11:59 pm Friday, according to a proclamation signed by the governor. DeSantis has tasked the legislature with reviewing independent special districts and amending Section 501.2041 of Florida Statutes, according to the proclamation.

The proclamation states that it’s “necessary to review” independent special districts that were created prior to Nov. 5, 1968, that “weren’t reestablished, ratified or otherwise reconstituted by a special act or general law” in order to consider “whether they are appropriately serving the public interest” and should be subject to the special law requirements of Florida’s 1968 constitution.

The special session begins weeks after DeSantis said he was looking into stripping Disney of the status and after Disney publicly expressed opposition to a parental rights in education bill DeSantis signed into law last month.

Republican state Rep. Randy Fine said he’s introducing the bill to repeal the statute.

On Tuesday morning, Fine tweeted, “Disney is a guest in Florida. Today, we remind them.” DeSantis called the special session, he said, “so I could file HB3C which eliminates Reedy Creek Improvement District, a 50 year-old special statute that makes Disney exempt from laws faced by regular Floridians.”

The 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act established the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which created an independent governing entity controlled by the Walt Disney Company. As a result, “Disney is in control of everything from construction zoning, building codes and fire department services to controlling its own electricity, roads and water,” a Forbes analysis explains.

If the legislature revokes the law, Disney would fall under county and state government regulatory oversight.

The 1967 law was enacted after Disney in the mid-1960s acquired more than 40 square miles of land for less than $200 an acre, well below market price, investigative journalist Timothy Allman points out in his book, “Finding Florida: The True History Of The Sunshine State.”

With the help of attorneys from a New York law firm, Disney was able “to avoid taxation and environmental regulation as well as maintain immunity from the U.S. Constitution,” Allman wrote for the Daily Beast.

Allman argues that attorneys from the New York law firm Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine, co-founded by William Donovan, helped craft the 1967 law.

“Donovan’s attorneys provided fake identities for Disney agents; they also set up a secret communications center, and orchestrated a disinformation campaign,” Allman said. “In order to maintain ‘control over the overall development,’ Disney and his advisers realized, ‘the company would have to find a way to limit the voting power of the private residents’ even though, they acknowledged, their efforts ‘violated the Equal Protection Clause’ of the U.S. Constitution,” he wrote.

Disney’s special governing status came into question after it publicly opposed the Parental Rights in Education law, which bans Florida schools and teachers from discussing “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” with students in kindergarten through third grade classes.

Numerous media outlets and opponents of the law claim it’s “anti-gay,” or uses the phrase, “Don’t say gay,” arguing it’s anti-LGBTQ. A review of the seven-page bill by The Center Square revealed no such language exists, including no mention of the word “gay.”

Disney issued a statement supporting the LGBTQ community, adding its “goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.”

In response, protests and boycotts against Disney began last month. The company was also the center of controversy last year after its corporate policy of pushing critical race theory was exposed.

DeSantis introduced the Stop WOKE Act and the legislature passed an “Individual Freedoms” bill. DeSantis said the legislation was necessary to protect Florida employees, including Disney employees, from a hostile work environment “created when large corporations force their employees to endure CRT-inspired ‘training’ and indoctrination.”

At a news conference March 31, DeSantis said repealing the 1967 law wouldn’t be in retaliation to Disney’s opposition to the parental rights law, ClickOrlando.com reported.

He said, “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. I don’t think we should have special privileges in the law at all.”