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DeSantis wants to end Disney World's special status in Florida

Mickey Mouse waves to fans during a parade at Walt Disney World Resort on March 03, 2022 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Julio Aguilar
Getty Images for Disney Dreamers
Mickey Mouse waves to fans during a parade at Walt Disney World Resort on March 03, 2022 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

In a surprise move, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has expanded a special session of the legislature this week to target the state's premier attraction, Disney World.

Lawmakers will consider a bill that would end all "independent special districts" in the state formed before 1968.

In 1967, Disney got the support of Florida's then-Republican governor, Claude Kirk, and the legislature to establish the Reedy Creek Improvement District. It gave Disney near-total control of nearly 40 square miles as it built and then operated its theme park. It exempts the park and its environs from nearly all state regulations. Property taxes and elevator inspections are exceptions.

DeSantis announced the move to try to dissolve the district at a press conference Tuesday with Republican leaders in Florida's House and Senate. Disney has long been one of the leading businesses in Florida with one of the most powerful voices in the state capitol. DeSantis has criticized the entertainment giant in recent months for what he has called its "woke" policies, including requiring its employees to wear facemasks in the park during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent weeks, the tensions heightened when Disney CEO Bob Chapek said he'd support the repeal of Florida's Parental Rights in Education Act, a measure critics call "Don't Say Gay." At the time, DeSantis said he believed Disney had "crossed the line."

Things had been different between Disney and DeSantis. Politico reported that the company donated $50,000 directly to Desantis during the 2020 election cycle. Last year, the governor's staff worked with Disney to give it an exemption from a law designed to crack down on big tech companies. DeSantis now says that was a mistake. And Disney says it has halted all political contributions in Florida.

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As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.