In light of Republican lawmakers discussing whether to limit Disney’s self-governing ability, Gov. Ron DeSantis says Florida should reevaluate any special privileges for the entertainment giant.
Republican lawmakers have held multiple meetings discussing changes to a self-governing arrangement Disney has enjoyed with the state since 1967. North Fort Myers Republican Rep. Spencer Roach tweeted Wednesday that lawmakers have met twice recently on repealing the law that created municipal-like governments, effectively run by Disney, to regulate the land where Walt Disney World operates. Should the Legislature repeal the law, that would leave the Disney property under the complete authority of Orange and Osceola counties.
Republicans floated the move following public sparring with Disney leadership over a law that prohibits classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity before the fourth grade, which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill (HB 1557).
Speaking in Ponte Vedra Beach on Thursday, DeSantis told reporters he would not view reducing Disney’s power as retaliatory and encouraged lawmakers to reevaluate special privileges.
“There are certain entities that have exerted a lot of influence through corporate means to generate special privileges in the law,” DeSantis said. “I don’t think we should have special privileges in the law at all.”
The 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act created the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), establishing local government-like operations in Bay Creek and Reedy Creek. The district effectively taxes the land and operates government services with that revenue, allowing self-government.
The RCID operates its own fire protection, security services, utilities and planning. Its Board of Supervisors is selected by landowners, effectively meaning the Disney corporation installs the government regulating the 38.5-square-mile property.
DeSantis’ Office has highlighted his current fight with Disney as evidence the Governor can’t be bought by corporations. However, he acknowledged one instance last year in which Disney had its way.
“The one time they got something when I’ve been Governor was that Big Tech carve-out,” DeSantis said. “That was wrong at the time, and it should be repealed.”
DeSantis in May signed legislation against social media deplatforming he pushed for after Twitter and other prominent social media companies removed then-President Donald Trump from their platforms following the U.S. Capitol riot. By the time the bill reached the Governor’s desk, it contained a carve-out for companies that own theme parks, which Spring Hill Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia said was a move to protect Disney Plus.
“I opposed that when it happened. I had to make a decision, do I veto? Do I throw the baby out with the bathwater and veto the entire bill? And I didn’t think it was worth doing,” DeSantis said.
However, former Orlando Sentinel reporter Jason Garcia wrote in February that language to protect Disney written during the final two days of the 2021 Legislative Session arose after conversations with the Governor’s Office. The Governor’s staff and legislative staff were resistant to Disney’s suggestions, according to the report, but eventually adopted the theme park approach.
Lawmakers are also taking a stand against Disney on the campaign front. Rep. Joe Harding, an Ocala Republican who sponsored the bill, on Tuesday returned all his previous political donations from Disney. Dade City Republican Rep. Randy Maggard followed suit on Wednesday. DeLand Republican Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff announced a similar move Thursday.
Disney has wielded significant political influence in years past, DeSantis told reporters. But he believes that it’s dissipating.
“I think that’s one of the reasons they’ve got so far over their skis on this parental rights stuff, because I think they’re used to having their way and they’re not used to having people that will stand in their way,” DeSantis said.
Florida will be governed in the best interests of its residents, the Governor said.
“We’re certainly not going to bend a knee to woke executives in California. That is not the way the state’s going to be run,” DeSantis said. “So I would say, reevaluate any special privileges in the law.”