U.S. Sen. Rick Scott offered tepid criticism of the Walt Disney Company Wednesday during a national interview, while also pointing out he didn’t have issues with the company or its self-governing status while he was Governor of Florida.
Scott told Bloomberg TV Disney was a “responsible corporate citizen” during his eight years in Tallahassee and generally, he added, questions about the now-controversial Reedy Creek Improvement District, which grants Disney functional autonomy to govern itself, never came up.
“You know, when I was Governor, it never was an issue,” Scott said. “I don’t understand why they’re now getting involved in some of these political issues. My understanding is that the Legislature is going to look at it now. But my experience with Disney has been positive,” Scott said.
Disney has run afoul of Gov. Ron DeSantis and many legislative Republicans in the wake of its vocal opposition to a Parental Rights in Education bill (HB 1557) that critics have framed as “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. The measure bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, and requires that instruction be age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for all grades.
Scott called it “frustrating” that companies like Disney have mobilized against the legislation, saying that “young children should not be taught about sex in school.”
“Companies have got to really think about how they get involved,” Scott urged, accusing Disney of a double standard since they do business in Communist China.
For his part, DeSantis’ critiques of Disney have been direct and ongoing since the company began speaking out on HB 1557.
“There are certain entities that have exerted a lot of influence through corporate means to generate special privileges in the law,” DeSantis said last week in Ponte Vedra. “I don’t think we should have special privileges in the law at all.”
The Governor also suggested previous leaders of the state gave Disney too much leeway.
“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.
Legislators, such as Southwest Florida Republican state Rep. Spencer Roach, say moves are afoot to strip the special status from Disney.
“Yesterday was the second meeting in a week with fellow legislators to discuss a repeal of the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act, which allows Disney to act as its own government,” Roach tweeted last week. “If Disney wants to embrace ‘woke’ ideology, it seems fitting that they should be regulated by Orange County.”
Despite the heavy Republican lean of the Legislature and the seeming inevitability of more of the same after the November elections, Disney contends there is a road to canceling the parental rights law.
“Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the Legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that,” read a corporate statement first released to Variety. “We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”
Renzo Downey and Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics contributed to this report.