Florida lawmakers OK bill to void Disney’s Reedy Creek deal

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Republican-controlled Florida Senate took one last swipe at Disney on Thursday, voting to give the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board the power to cancel development agreements approved by the previous board controlled by the entertainment giant.

The bill now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who called for the measure as part of his ongoing feud with the state’s largest single-site employer.

The language contained in SB 1604 land use bill says a newly appointed independent special district doesn’t have to comply with any agreements or contracts approved up to three months before the effective date of “a law modifying the manner of selecting members of the governing body of the independent special district ….”

It doesn’t mention the new board or the old board, called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, but bill sponsor Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, admitted that was its target during a committee hearing last month.

The Senate voted 27-13 to approve the measure without discussion, with Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota joining all 12 Democrats in voting against it. The House had approved it earlier.

Disney, for its part, has filed a federal lawsuit against DeSantis and the state, declaring that it has been politically targeted because of its opposition to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law that bans instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools.

Meanwhile, the Florida House gave final passage to a bill preventing doctors from giving gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy to trans children under 18.

It was one of a flurry of bills going back and forth between the House and Senate as they wrapped up business before Friday’s scheduled last day of the session, which included the unveiling of a $2.7 billion tax relief bill. Lawmakers also took up the $117 billion appropriations bill for questions and debate in advance of Friday’s vote.

“We should all vote for this budget because 99.9 percent of it is necessary and good and valid,” Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood.

The House and Senate voted along party lines to approve the transgender care bill, which codifies rules previously adopted by the Agency for Health Care Administration last year but offers certain exceptions to continue treatment already begun before the law was enacted.

Its next stop is the desk of DeSantis, who has spearheaded efforts to end transitional treatment for minors and who has said children should not be “guinea pigs for science experiments, and we cannot allow people to make money off mutilating them.”

Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, said lawmakers who are not medically trained have no business restricting what type of treatment a physician prescribes for their patient.

“They are the ultimate arbiters of what that care should be, not the Legislature,” Skidmore said.

Physicians face felony charges for providing gender-affirming care to minors.

The bill was amended to give the Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine 60 days after the bill becomes law to adopt “emergency rules pertaining to standards of practice under which a patient younger than 18 years of age may continue to be treated with a prescription …. If such treatment for sex reassignment was commenced before, and is still active on, the effective date of this act.”

The boards would need to consider side effects and psychiatric counseling.

“This is a decent amendment, and this is a good bill,” said Lecanto Rep. Ralph Massulo, a dermatologist and Republican. “Our words have power, and we cannot speak something into existence that doesn’t exist. We cannot change our sex. And for those children, this bill addresses the need to believe they cannot change their sex.”

Massullo called transgenderism or gender dysphoria a mental condition, not a physical one.

Several other bills this session sparked intense debate among lawmakers and also led to protests, rallies and marches, including changing a 15-week limit on abortions to six weeks.

The session produced stricter immigration laws and allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit. The session also produced a law expanding private school vouchers, preempting local rent control ordinances, and prohibiting transgender people from using the bathrooms of their choice.

The many controversial bills sparked emotional outbursts in the House and Senate chambers, which each had to be shut down and cleared after several outbursts from onlookers.

Two protests ended with police arresting protesters for curfew violations and trespassing. One was at Tallahassee City Hall, where Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book and Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried were arrested with several other protesters.

And on Wednesday, 14 people who barricaded the governor’s office at the Capitol were arrested after several warnings they would have to leave after the building closed at 7 p.m. They were charged with misdemeanor trespassing.

“It’s no surprise that Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida’s freedom killer in chief, had folks arrested for exercising their First Amendment right to assemble,” said Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville. “As DeSantis disrespects the rule of law when it benefits everyday people, he easily changes laws that inconvenience him personally on his path of destruction to the presidency.

The protest, led by the civil rights group Dream Defenders, was to commemorate the 10th anniversary of their occupation of former Gov. Rick Scott’s office after the shooting death of Sanford teenager Trayvon Martin.

“It feels like things have progressively gotten worse,” since the last time, said Jonel Edwards Mickles, one of the 200 Dream Defenders who came up for Wednesday’s rally and civil action.

After the occupation 10 years ago, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement enacted new rules that prohibit people from staying inside after hours or 30 minutes after the end of public meetings. No one is allowed to stay overnight.

Despite frequently locking horns, Democrats and Republicans managed to come together on several issues.

They voted to increase the income eligibility threshold for coverage for Medikids and Florida Kidcare programs. They voted to approve protections for Black cemeteries. They voted to require public schools to provide menstrual hygiene products.

And they voted to set standards and annual certification of public schools to ensure they are teaching African American history.

“We had a lot of bills where Republicans joined us because they understood their importance and did not kowtow to political pressure,” Skidmore said.