Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to Void Disney’s Development Rights in Ongoing Feud over “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

The feud between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Walt Disney Co. has escalated as the governor announced that the state Legislature intends to void an agreement on Disney development rights for years to come.[0] The fight began when Disney opposed Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which limits classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools. DeSantis retaliated by seeking to strip Disney of its special self-governing status in Florida.[1] The legislation passed, giving the state oversight over the company’s Central Florida properties, but Disney found a way to nullify the state’s authority shortly before the new law took effect.[2]

Earlier this year, DeSantis moved to take over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special taxing district that has given Disney control over the land around its Central Florida theme parks for half a century, and install his political allies on the district’s board of supervisors.[3] In February, a property development agreement between Disney and Reedy Creek gave Disney the sole right to develop the district’s land for at least 30 years.[4] The agreement will be overturned by DeSantis’ legislature.[4]

DeSantis also suggested that land owned by the district not currently used by Disney could be used for other purposes, including a state park or a new amusement park.[0] He even mentioned the possibility of constructing another state prison. The governor’s newly constituted board will have the power to decide how to develop land adjacent to Disney’s theme parks.[5]

The confrontation with Disney started over a year ago when the company opposed Florida’s parental rights in education bill. The legislation banned classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in lower grades.[6] Since then, DeSantis and Disney have repeatedly exchanged blows.[1] Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has criticized DeSantis’ actions against Disney, saying they are not in line with those of a conservative.

Next to Disney’s resorts lies property owned by the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, overseen by DeSantis.[7] The governor suggested that these properties have potential for development, and even proposed the idea of constructing a new prison for the state. However, Disney representatives have denied DeSantis’ claim that the company appraises its own property to determine its value, saying that the Orange County tax assessor assesses all property in the county, including Disney, Sea World, and Universal.[8]

DeSantis’ announcement of new measures against Disney includes legislation to end the exemption of its theme park rides from state inspection, increasing Disney’s tax burden, and giving the newly constituted board the power to decide how to develop land adjacent to Disney’s theme parks.[9] DeSantis suggested that the new board could take other actions with Disney’s 27,000 acres in central Florida, such as building a state park, a competing theme park, or a prison.[10] Disney’s battle with Florida could prompt the company to leave Florida, which Donald Trump has urged the company to do, calling it a financial “killer” for DeSantis.[11]

0. “DeSantis says Legislature plans to void agreement that Disney made to avoid state control” Florida Phoenix, 17 Apr. 2023, https://floridaphoenix.com/2023/04/17/desantis-says-legislature-plans-to-void-agreement-that-disney-made-to-avoid-state-control/

1. “Florida Gov. DeSantis floats higher taxes on Disney, possible prison construction next door” FOX 35 Orlando, 17 Apr. 2023, https://www.fox35orlando.com/news/gov-desantis-to-hold-news-conference-at-reedy-creek-building-monday-afternoon

2. “DeSantis doubles down on Disney deal, subjects the Mouse to inspections” Bay News 9, 17 Apr. 2023, https://www.baynews9.com/fl/tampa/news/2023/04/17/desantis-continues-spat-with-disney-in-lake-buena-vista-stop

3. “DeSantis to ax Disney development deal that aimed to undermine state oversight” NBC News, 17 Apr. 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/desantis-plans-axe-disney-development-deal-aimed-undermine-state-overs-rcna80052

4. “Legal analyst explains challenges with nullifying Reedy Creek agreement” WESH 2 Orlando, 18 Apr. 2023, https://www.wesh.com/article/desantis-disney-battle/43625610

5. “DeSantis threatens retaliation over Disney’s attempt to thwart state takeover” NBC2 News, 17 Apr. 2023, https://nbc-2.com/news/state/2023/04/17/desantis-threatens-retaliation-over-disneys-attempt-to-thwart-state-takeover/

6. “DeSantis leans on GOP-controlled Legislature to thwart Disney” POLITICO, 17 Apr. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/04/17/desantis-florida-disney-gop-legislature-00092398

7. “DeSantis Ramps Up Disney Feud With New Measures Against Theme Park” Forbes, 17 Apr. 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisondurkee/2023/04/17/desantis-ramps-up-disney-feud-with-new-measures-against-theme-park/

8. “Ron DeSantis Reveals Plan to Fight Disney Over Florida Special District After Board Snafu” Hollywood Reporter, 17 Apr. 2023, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/business/business-news/ron-desantis-florida-special-district-1235382760

9. “‘Disney Outsmarted DeSantis Again’ Over Development Dispute, Attorney Says” Newsweek, 18 Apr. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/disney-outsmarted-desantis-again-over-development-dispute-attorney-says-gay-1794962

10. “Ron DeSantis threatens prison near Disney theme park in latest retaliation” The Guardian US, 18 Apr. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/apr/17/ron-desantis-prison-near-disney-theme-park

11. “Trump tells Disney to move OUT of Florida in their war with Ron DeSantis” Daily Mail, 18 Apr. 2023, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11986333/Trump-backs-Disney-urges-Florida-war-Ron-DeSantis.html

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