By Zachary Stieber
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 19 formally asked state lawmakers to take up eliminating Walt Disney World’s self-governing status during a special session that was set to start on Monday.
DeSantis, a Republican, announced the move in a proclamation (pdf), telling members of the Florida House of Representatives and Senate that the state’s updated Constitution in 1968 “generally disfavors” special laws granting privileges to private corporations but does permit creating special districts such as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
A law passed by Florida legislators in 1967 created the district, which lets Disney run some 25,000 acres in Orange and Osceola counties largely free of outside input.
DeSantis said that “it is necessary” to review all special districts made before 1968 “to ensure that they are appropriately serving the public interest” and to make sure they’re complying with requirements of the updated Constitution.
Additionally, it is in Florida’s interest to win a court battle regarding a separate law that aims to protect people from censorship by social media platforms but a federal judge blocked it in part because Florida law exempts companies that operate a theme park or entertainment complex from being a platform, the proclamation states.
Disney did not respond to a request for comment.
Before the proclamation, the session was to only focus on creating new redistricting maps after DeSantis, a Republican, rejected maps state lawmakers drew in March.
“Yes, they will be considering the congressional map. But they also will be considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968, and that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District,” DeSantis told reporters during an unrelated press briefing on Tuesday. He said it was “very important” to make sure the termination of the special districts happens.
Lawmakers are set to return for another special session in May to address property insurance problems, the governor recently said.
Disney drew criticism from many after weighing in against a Florida law that bars teaching about gender orientation or sexual identity to kindergarten through 3rd grade, and restricts teaching about the issues in older grades.
Disney called the bill “another challenge to basic human rights” and, after it was passed, named it as a company goal “for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.”
DeSantis told reporters in March that a repeal of the Reedy Creek district would not be “retaliatory.”
“The way I view it is, you know, there are certain entities that have exerted a lot of influence through corporate means to generate special privileges in the law,” he said at the time. “I don’t think we should have special privileges in the law at all.”
Florida Rep. Spencer Roach, another Republican, said around the same time that he met multiple times with colleagues to discuss repealing the law that granted Disney the ability to govern itself.
“If Disney wants to embrace woke ideology, it seems fitting that they should be regulated by Orange County,” he said.