Florida lawmakers are reportedly preparing to reverse their decision to strip the Walt Disney Company of its authority over the state's Reedy Creek Improvement District, which includes the land on which Walt Disney World sits, the Financial Times reports.
Earlier this year, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill to take away the firm's ability to write its own regulations and building codes, as well as operate its own municipal services within the district after it weighed in against Florida Republicans' Parental Rights in Education Act. The legislation forbade educators from providing instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation through third grade, and was pejoratively deemed a "Don't Say Gay" bill by progressive critics.
Disney publicly lobbied against the bill, prompting Republicans to strip the company of their unique control over Reedy Creek, as well as take away certain tax advantages granted to the entertainment company.
"Disney and other woke corporations won't get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer," said DeSantis at the time. "If we want to keep the Democrat machine and their corporate lapdogs accountable, we have to stand together now."
The state Senate voted 23-16 and the state House voted 68-38 in favor of revoking the company's privileges.
But now, legislators are working on a compromise that would largely restore Disney's powers. Were the revocation to take effect, as it is set to during the summer of 2023, it would transfer considerable tax and debt obligations from the company onto Florida residents.
Last month, Disney let go of CEO Bob Chapek and reinstalled his predecessor, Bob Iger at the head of the company. Chapek had declared during the initial controversy over the Parental Rights in Education Act that he wanted "to be crystal clear: I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities."
At Chapek's direction, Disney released a statement asserting that "Florida's HB 1557, also known as the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law."
Randy Fine, the lawmaker who drafted the bill stripping Disney of its special status, said that Iger's return would likely smooth the way toward having the status restored.
"It's easier to shift policy when you don't have to defend the old policy," Fine told the Financial Times. "Chapek screwed up, but Bob Iger doesn't have to own that screw-up."
At a company town hall meeting on Monday, Iger said he was "sorry to see us get dragged into [the] battle" over Disney's special status.
"What I can say [is] the state of Florida has been important to us for a long time and we have been very important to the state of Florida," Iger said. "That is something I'm extremely mindful of and will articulate if I get the chance."
Iger also expressed a desire to tone down the company's public involvement in culture war issues.
"Do I like the company being embroiled in 'controversy'? Of course not. It can be distracting, and it can have a negative impact on the company. And the extent that I can work to quiet things down, I'm going to do that," he said.
While lawmakers have expressed interest in reversing course, DeSantis pushed back on that effort in a statement issued by his press secretary, Bryan Griffin.
"Governor DeSantis does not make 'U-turns.' The governor was right to champion removing the extraordinary benefit given to one company through the Reedy Creek Improvement District," said Griffin. "We will have an even playing field for businesses in Florida, and the state certainly owes no special favors to one company. Disney's debts will not fall on the taxpayers of Florida. A plan is in the works and will be released soon."
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