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DeSantis and Disney gear up for Round 2 in their ongoing feud

Lydell Rawls
WFSU Public Media
Gov. Ron DeSantis and fellow Republican leaders are promising there’s more to come in an ongoing fight with Disney.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and fellow Republican leaders are promising there’s more to come in an ongoing fight with Disney.

Governor Ron DeSantis and fellow Republican leaders are promising there’s more to come in an ongoing fight with Disney. DeSantis and the GOP-led legislature stripped the media giant of its self-governance status after the company’s former CEO spoke out against a bill that limited classroom discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation. Now it’s been revealed that Disney has regained control of its property through 11th-hour maneuvers that the state House Speaker has called “disingenuous.”

“I look forward to proposals on how to address that," said House Speaker Paul Renner when asked about what, if anything, the legislature will or can do regarding Disney’s move to keep control of its special taxing district, formerly known as Reedy Creek.

The legislature approved a bill in a special session that dissolved the district. In a February special session lawmakers put in place a new board with gubernatorial appointees. Prior to the new board going into effect, the old Reedy Creek board approved restrictive covenants that effectively let Disney keep its control, thus circumventing the legislature, and DeSantis, in the process.

“All agreements signed between Disney 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," Walt Disney World Resorts said in a statement.

“You see a slight smile come to my face because we had the governor, the Republicans in the legislature back him up in making this maneuver to punish Disney…because of their former CEO standing up against the first 'Don’t Say Gay Bill',” said House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell.

Driskell's Friday comments came the day the House passed a bill that extends a ban on gender identity and sexual orientation discussions to the 8th grade. It’s a broader version of the bill that started the fight in the first place.

For Democrats and DeSantis opponents, there’s some pleasure in seeing at least one of the governor’s plans backfire.

“I don’t know if they can fix this. I don’t know if a special session or regular session will fix this…I think they might have been outwitted by the board," Driskell said.

DeSantis has made combating quote: “woke ideology” a sticking point in his politics. But lawmakers may have been too hasty in making good on the governor’s spat with Disney when they called special sessions to do it, says Democratic Rep. Kelly Skidmore.

“We talked about special sessions being an abbreviated time where things are not properly vetted and public testimony isn’t available and there’s not a length of time for us to understand all the consequences intended or not, and I think this is one of those occasions.”

The fight is far from over. The new board has lawyered up and Attorney General Ashley Moody has called on the previous board to turn over any documents related to Disney’s maneuvering. The New York Times reported Monday that DeSantis has requested Florida's Inspector General investigate the matter. For now, says Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, there’s not much the legislature can do.

"We’ve got a lot on our plate," Passidomo said when asked about the situation with Disney. "I don’t anticipate doing anything in the near term.”

But others are warning caution—as political watchers are gearing up for DeSantis vs. Disney, Round 2.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.