House passes bill ending Disney Plus carve-out, gavels out amid protests

Sprowls vote
Speaker Chris Sprowls cut Black Democrats' redistricting protest short by calling members to a vote.

As members of the Legislative Black Caucus sat on the House floor in protest over the redistricting process, Republican leadership pushed through with votes on the day’s business, including a bill to remove a carve-out for Disney Plus in Florida’s social media deplatforming bill.

Lawmakers had allotted 40 minutes of debate on the Disney Plus bill (SB 6C), plus two hours of debate on a bill to eliminate Disney’s self-governing district (SB 4C). But House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Republicans put the Disney bills to votes without discussion. Sprowls gaveled the House done for the day as Democratic Reps. Travaris McCurdy, Angie Nixon and more chanted, nearly drowning out the House Speaker.

By a 70-38 vote, along party lines, the House approved the bill, which will remove a carve-out for companies that own theme parks from a law that tries to protect Floridians from social media “censorship.” The exemption, approved less than a year ago during the final days of the 2021 Legislative Session, deliberately targets the Walt Disney Company and Disney Plus.

Lawmakers initially were meeting this week only to pass a new congressional map. But on Tuesday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded the scope of the Session to include legislation targeting parts of state law that create special cases for Disney.

While Democrats contended they oppose carve-outs, the topic has been controversial because it emerged after a public spat between Disney and DeSantis over Florida’s recent Parental Rights in Education law (HB 1557). That legislation, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics, prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity before the fourth grade and opens the door for parents to sue School Boards over instruction about LGBTQ topics they oppose.

Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith called it frightening that Republicans would target private businesses that oppose their agenda.

“They’re using the full power of the state of Florida to enact retribution against their political opponents, namely Disney, who had the gall to stand up and defend LGBTQ Floridians. That was a bridge too far for Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican enablers in the Florida Legislature.”

House Democratic Leader Evan Jenne told Florida Politics he believes every member of the Legislature and Cabinet have taken money from Disney at one point.

“All they said was, ‘We don’t hate gay people,’ and it leads to a bill being slammed on at the beginning of Special Session,” Jenne said.

The vote, held after more than an hour of protests from Democrats on Thursday, followed the Senate’s 26-14 vote the day prior. Next, the legislation will head to DeSantis for his approval. With his anticipated signature, the bill will take effect immediately.

The protest began as Democrats’ debate time expired on the bill to pass the congressional maps drafted by DeSantis’ Office. Democrats called DeSantis’ involvement a breach of the separation of powers and argued the maps would reduce the representation of Black Floridians in Congress.

In a statement after the House adjourned, Sprowls issued a statement accusing some members of violating House rules and “hijacking” the process.

“We saw a group of Florida House members with microphones at their desk, a statewide audience, and an opportunity to vote on behalf of their constituents, and they instead chose to pretend they had to stage a protest to be heard,” Sprowls wrote. “House Democrats requested and agreed to 75 minutes of debate time on congressional maps, and they used the entire time. They did not request any additional time prior to the group’s disruption.”

As Black lawmakers and other Democrats protested, current and future leaders of the Republican, Democratic and Legislative Black caucuses met in an attempt to resolve the dispute. House Democratic Policy Chair Fentrice Driskell, who is expected to become the Democratic leader in 2024, said Democratic leadership attempted to negotiate additional time to meet with caucus members.

“Unfortunately, things happened so fast we didn’t get that opportunity to have that conversation and the Speaker instead decided to move the question and to finish the business of the day without hearing debate from both sides,” Driskell said.

Jenne said he believes Sprowls pushed forward with the votes to prevent sit-ins, unseen in recent Florida history, to become a tool in the legislative process.

“Look, he had the authority to have the sergeants pull them off the floor, and I’m thankful that he didn’t go to that extreme,” Jenne said.

Fleming Island Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley, who is sponsoring the legislation along with Pensacola Republican Rep. Alex Andrade, said Wednesday that the new measure is supposed to address legal questions about whether lawmakers intended to apply last year’s social media deplatforming bill equally to all media companies.

“I have a hard time understanding why that would be a controversial issue. Let’s apply the law equally to everyone,” Bradley said. “In case there was any doubt in the court’s mind where the Legislature stood, it’s that we do not stand with special carve-outs.”

DeSantis proposed last year’s social media deplatforming bill (SB 7072) 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 an exemption for companies that own theme parks, which Spring Hill Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia said was a move to protect Disney Plus.

Freelance investigative reporter Jason Garcia wrote in February that language protecting Disney Plus 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.

In July 2021, hours before the social media legislation was supposed to take effect, federal Judge Robert Hinkle in the Northern District of Florida pumped the brakes on the law, citing the exemption as one of several reasons he viewed the law as unconstitutional. An appeal to that injunction heads to oral arguments on April 28.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association, a Washington-based nonprofit association with members including Facebook and Twitter, is one of two organizations that sued Florida over last year’s social media law. In a prepared statement on Tuesday, CCIA President Matt Schruers said removing the Disney carve-out wouldn’t change the bill’s underlying constitutional problems.

“If Gov. DeSantis had realized sooner that the internet regulations his own office lobbied for were wrong, he might have saved Floridians hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses,” Schruers said. “But this law is wrong not because the Legislature carved out a once-favored Florida company, but because the government has no business dictating what speech private businesses must host.”

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

One comment

  • TD

    April 21, 2022 at 5:09 pm

    Again: Make politics an existential battle between those who can abide by neutral laws and be treated like everyone else, and those who can’t. Look no further than how they have reacted when someone finally fights back and gives them a taste of their own medicine.

    Let them defend:
    – Pushing transgenderism on kids.
    – Selective cancelling and deplatforming by monopolistic tech companies acting as public utilities.
    – Special exemptions, subsidies, and services that woke companies act entitled to as if we all benefit from them when all it does is increase their profit. Yes, they generate economic returns, but the notion that the exemptions, subsidies, and services they get are all that is standing between FL and an income tax is ridiculous.
    – Black Florida Democrat “leaders” who feel entitled to gerrymandered districts to “represent” their “community” but who no one else in their right mind would ever want to be represented by and whose only accomplishment in decades of mediocrity is playing the race card, and paying themselves and their family members.

    If you read this site, and you cannot understand that all of the issues above are losers, and are losers because they attempt to maintain BY LAW that some (mentally ill classroom activists, woke oligarchs and their professional managerial class toadies, greedy multinational corporations, and coddled black bourgeoisie) are “more equal” than others (parents, workers and consumers, small businesses, literally everyone else), then you must get paid to remind blind and not to question, or worse, to actively lie. Which let’s be honest is a significant number of people in our current political class. Indeed, what is being pushed back against now is actually just the way that first group rationalizes away its insecurity about its own incompetence and unearned position in the society (“it’s all legal, so…”)

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