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Ron DeSantis unveils legislative move targeting Disney over their transfer of power

DeSantis & Disney clash over authority
DeSantis and Disney clash over Florida theme park authority 03:42

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday unveiled a new legislative push targeting Disney that, if passed, would void a last-hour agreement they made to strip power from his state-appointed board.

The move from the potential 2024 presidential contender continues a year-long battle with the entertainment company after they publicly opposed his "Parental Rights in Education" bill, which prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity before the third grade. There are currently attempts in Florida's legislature to expand this bill to higher grades.

Disney's governance over the district home to Walt Disney World and its resorts was overhauled by Florida's legislature in retaliation to the company's public opposition to this bill.

In February, before DeSantis' picks to a new state board in control of the area began their roles, their predecessors publicly passed an agreement to give full developmental power to Disney. The board passed another agreement blocking the new district from using the company's name or likenesses of characters without permission. 

Disney DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference at the Reedy Creek Administration Building Monday, April 17, 2023, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.  John Raoux / AP

"They negotiated with themselves, to give themselves the ability to maintain their self-governing status. Now that's in direct defiance of the will of the people of Florida," DeSantis said at a press conference Monday. "They thought that they could create some type of development agreements that would essentially render everything that we did null and void and put them in control in perpetuity for this. Well, that's not going to work."

On Monday, DeSantis announced legislation that would revoke Disney's agreement to circumvent the state-board, require safety inspections for Disney's transportation infrastructure and buildings, and give the state's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services oversight over amusement park safety. 

"The beauty of the legislature getting involved is they're going to come in… and basically say, this development agreement is revoked, and that's what is going to be in the law in the state of Florida," he said, noting that the legislation itself is expected to be introduced next week.

DeSantis also floated looking at further development on other lands in the district adjacent to Disney's resorts and property— including a private prison. 

"People have said maybe create a state park, maybe try to do more amusement parks. Somebody even said like, maybe you need another state prison, who knows. I just think that the possibilities are endless," he said at a press conference in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. 

In a March statement about their move, Disney said the agreements between the company and the district were "appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida's Government in the Sunshine law."

At an annual shareholder meeting in April, Disney CEO Bob Iger criticized DeSantis' move to retaliate against the company for " its exercise of a constitutional right."

"That just seems really wrong to me, against any company or individual but particularly against the company that means so much to the state that you live in," Iger said, adding that he thought DeSnatis' actions sounds "not just anti-business but it sounds anti-Florida."

DeSantis' "Central Florida Tourism Oversight District" is also scheduled to meet with counsel on Wednesday to look at other legal actions to take against the company for their deal. A public notice of their meeting agenda says the board will look at terminating "all planning and zoning board members." 

DeSantis suggested the board couple remove mask requirements in the district, and make sure this district is "really leaning in hard against human trafficking" through more warnings in hotels. 

Earlier this month, the governor asked the state's inspector general to investigate Disney's agreement for any potential civil and criminal violations. 

DeSantis, who has signaled he could seek the Republican nomination for president in 2024, has made his fight with Disney a core part of his stump speech, and teased taking further action during out-of-state trips in Michigan, Ohio and New Hampshire. 

At a Republican Party fundraiser Friday in the early primary state of New Hampshire, while talking about transgender youth and education, DeSantis got a standing ovation when he said, "It is wrong to tell a second grader that they were born in the wrong body… I don't care if Disney doesn't like that, I'm standing up for what's right."

While speaking at the conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan earlier in this month, DeSantis floated implementing taxes on the hotels and tolls on the roads on Disney's land. 

"What Disney has tried to do is say that they should be able to operate outside the context of our constitutional system in Florida. Now, we took this action prior to the [2022] election, we won overwhelmingly. They are not superior to the people of Florida. And so come hell or high water. We're going to make sure that that policy of Florida carries the day," he said in Michigan. 

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