Politics

Florida Threatens to Revoke Disney’s Self-Governing Authority Over LGBTQ Bill Feud … Wait, Hang On, Disney’s What Now?

An individual in a large Mickey Mouse costume (pictured in color) is seen speaking from a balcony to a plaza filled with thousands of people (pictured in black and white).
Mouse-olini. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images and Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Black Tap Craft Burgers and Shakes.

Earlier this week, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that allows parents to sue school districts if teachers violate what appear to be tactically vague limitations on discussing sexual orientation or gender identity.

After internal pressure that included an employee walkout at the company’s Burbank, California, office, the Disney Corporation—whose Walt Disney World is a major employer and tourist draw in Florida—issued a statement that said the bill “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law.” Disney further said that “our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.”

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In response, DeSantis said that he believes the company no longer deserves “special privileges” under Florida law. He was referring in part to a suggestion, made by Republican state Rep. Spencer Roach, that legislators should “discuss a repeal of the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act, which allows Disney to act as its own government.”

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What? To act as its own government?

Yes. In the words of the Reedy Creek Improvement District itself:

In the mid-1960s, the Walt Disney World Company proposed building a recreation-oriented development on 25,000 acres of property in Central Florida. The property sat in a remote area of Orange and Osceola County, so secluded that the nearest power and water lines were 10-15 miles away. Neither Orange nor Osceola County had the services or the resources needed to bring the project to life.

In 1967 the Florida State legislature, working with Walt Disney World Company, created a special taxing district—called the Reedy Creek Improvement District—that would act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.

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As explained by the site Florida Politics, the RCID’s governing body, the board of supervisors, is chosen by the RCID’s landowners.

There are some landowners besides Disney in the district, but none whose holdings are within an order of magnitude of the Mouse’s, which means Disney, in effect, selects the board members. (Because of a requirement in the law, it then grants them nominal ownership over five acres of land, which they have to give back when they leave the board. The Orlando Sentinel has described the land as “inaccessible” and “undevelopable.”)

The board can, among other things, “write building codes, sell tax-free bonds, produce electricity, condemn property and kill mosquitoes.”

How serious of a threat is DeSantis making? Well, Florida’s Legislature is finished with its annual business and won’t meet again until next year—unless DeSantis calls a special session. But one also imagines that even if building-code approval and other responsibilities reverted to other local authorities in central Florida, those authorities might defer to the interests of the global megacorporation that is responsible for 99.9 percent of their area’s economic activity.

Legislators are also not, for now, challenging Disney’s even more super-secret authority to indefinitely detain “any individual deemed to be in violation … of Mouse Prerogative 7.0 Delta.” Ha! I’m kidding about that statute, which is definitely not part of the so-called “Florida Codex” written in strange symbols, appended to the state charter, and kept in a vault under Lake Buena Vista. This paragraph is satire! Have a nice weekend!

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