TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis’ war with Disney escalated Tuesday with the announcement that lawmakers will consider repealing the governing structure for Disney’s Florida Propertiesa move that could end special privileges the company has long enjoyed and appears aimed at punishing Disney for speaking out against the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law.
DeSantis expanded the scope of a special legislative session that begins Tuesday on redistricting, broadening it so that lawmakers “also will be considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968,” DeSantis said.
Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District was created by the Legislature in 1967. It spans two counties and 25,000 acres, and gives the company broad powers to control what happens on Disney property. Reedy Creek levies taxes and controls everything from roads to the water and electric systems in a 38.5-square-mile area covering four theme parks, two water parks, more than 40,000 hotel rooms and a slew of restaurants and retail stores.
On the offensive:Florida’s Ron DeSantis attacks Disney over company’s lobbying against ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill
Disney company officials did not immediately respond to DeSantis’ announcement.
Republicans lawmakers and DeSantis began criticizing Disney’s governing structure after the company’s CEO spoke out against HB 1557, the legislation officially known as the Parental Rights in Education act but derived by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
State Rep. Spencer Roach tweeted on March 30 that he was meeting with lawmakers to discuss Reedy Creek’s repeal.
“If Disney wants to embrace woke ideology, it seems fitting that they should be regulated by Orange County,” Roach wrote.
Attack:DeSantis says he will soon sign so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, again criticizes Disney
Disney’s exception in Big Tech legislation may be targeted
In addition to considering the repeal of Disney’s special district, the governor is calling on lawmakers to review a carve out Disney received that exempts the company from a law targeting alleged censorship by Big Tech companies.
The governor’s own staff helped push for the carve out in response to requests from Disney, according to emails obtained by the Seeking Rents newsletter. DeSantis now wants to do away with it, though.
The Big Tech bill pushed by DeSantis last year was an attempt to stop companies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube from “deplatforming” users in the wake of President Donald Trump being kicked off Twitter. It also regulates companies’ content moderation efforts.
A federal judge overturned the law. The ruling raised concerns about the carve out for Disney.
Precedent for Disney
Targeting a company for publicly criticalizing state policy is highly unusual. It has led to questions about whether lawmakers and the governor are abusing their power to punish critics.
DeSantis has been aggressive in going after Disney in the wake of the company’s criticism on HB 1557, leading a wave of GOP pushback against a company that is iconic in Florida.
Prominent conservative leaders and media figures have relentlessly criticized Disney in recent weeks. Targeting the company with punitive legislation escalates the fight even further.
“I never thought I’d see the day that Florida’s largest employer … would be under attack by the Florida Legislature,” Democratic state Rep. Allison Tant tweeted Tuesday. “Disney is larger than most cities, complete (with) fire stations, police officers, hospitals, & now adding affordable housing.”
Republican state Rep. Randy Fine tweeted: “Disney is a guest in Florida. Today, we remind them.”
Fine-introduced HB 3C, the “Independent Special Districts” bill, on Tuesday morning. An identical bill, SB 4-C, was also introduced in the Senate.
Debate over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law
The fight over HB 1557 became one of the most polarizing policy debates in the nation.
The controversial legislation states, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Supporters of the bill say it simply seeks to ensure that sensitive conversations with children are handled by parents, not school officials. But many view it as an attack on the LGBTQ community.
Disney leaders were criticized by some employees for not taking a strong stance against HB 1557 until after it already cleared the Legislature. Disney CEO Bob Chapek later came out against the legislation, saying he called DeSantis “to express our disappointment and concern that if legislation becomes law it could be used to target gay, lesbian, nonbinary and transgender kids and families.”
In response, DeSantis lashed out at “woke” Disney.
“You have companies like a Disney that are gonna say and criticize parents’ rights, they’re gonna criticize the fact that we don’t want transgenderism in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms,” DeSantis said.
Follow Herald-Tribune Political Editor Zac Anderson on Twitter at @zacjanderson. He can be reached at [email protected]
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism