DeSantis calls for end to Disney’s ‘special privileges’ in Florida

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Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed his support Thursday for ending Disney’s “special privileges” in Florida, saying the entertainment giant’s political sway is waning.

DeSantis has been battling the Walt Disney Co. over its opposition to HB 1557, officially titled Parental Rights in Education but known by many as the “don’t say gay” bill.

“As a matter of first principle, I don’t support special privileges in law, just because a company is powerful, and they’ve been able to wield a lot of power,” he said at an event in West Palm Beach.

His comments came after state Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, tweeted that lawmakers have met twice to discuss repealing a 1967 state law that allowed Walt Disney World to establish its own independent government through the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Roach did not respond to messages seeking more details. Disney also has not responded to requests for comment.

DeSantis didn’t list specific policy proposals, but he mentioned a last-minute exemption the company got in legislation last year as an example of special treatment. Lawmakers excluded companies that operate theme parks from a bill that sought to stop social media outlets from de-platforming political candidates.

State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, said at the time the exemption was aimed at making sure the Disney Plus streaming service “isn’t caught up in this.”

DeSantis said Thursday that carve-out for Disney was “ridiculous” and “embarrassing,” but public records showed his legislative affairs director served as a liaison between Disney and lawmakers to craft its language. Those records were revealed in a report in the Seeking Rents newsletter.

DeSantis said he signed the bill because he didn’t want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and wants the carve-out repealed.

A DeSantis spokeswoman did not respond to an email asking about the governor office’s involvement in the Disney carve-out and whether DeSantis would support repealing the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

DeSantis’ Big Tech law is being challenged in the courts.

Disney has carried immense influence with lawmakers for decades and is a major donor to Florida Republicans, who control state government.

In 1967, state lawmakers granted Disney unprecedented control over its theme park property, forming the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Through that government structure, Disney gained the ability to issue tax-free bonds for improvements, regulate land use and environmental protections, and provide fire, police and other essential public services.

Disney has scored other economic wins from the Republican-controlled Legislature over the years, including a $570 million tax break for its new regional hub in Orlando’s Lake Nona community that is expected to generate more than 2,000 jobs for the region.

Republicans and Disney are at odds over DeSantis’ agenda on social issues. Disney issued a statement that HB 1557 “should never have passed and should have never been signed into law” and vowed to work to get it repealed or overturned in the courts.

HB 1557 bars classroom instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity” or in a manner that is not “age appropriate.” Critics say the legislation is vague and targets the LGBTQ community.

DeSantis said lessening Disney’s influence in Florida politics would be “good” for the state.

“I just don’t think you have very many people in the Legislature anymore who are going to be able to defend a lot of what has been done over many, many years to really have them almost govern themselves in some of these things,” DeSantis said. “You know, that was probably never appropriate to start, but it’s certainly not appropriate now.”