Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state legislature will file a bill that aims to undo steps the Walt Disney Co. took to undermine the authority of a new state-appointed oversight board, intensifying the battle between a likely presidential contender and one of the state’s largest employers.
DeSantis announced the bill at a news conference at Lake Buena Vista on Monday.
DeSantis said the bill would “formally nullify” a development agreement Disney struck with outgoing members of the oversight board that ties the hands of DeSantis’ appointees.
“To do an end-run around the people of Florida shows how arrogant they are,” DeSantis told the host of WFLA’s “Good Morning Orlando” before Monday’s announcement.
The Florida governor began targeting Disney a year ago, after Disney’s then-Chief Executive Bob Chapek spoke out against a bill limiting discussion of sexuality and gender identity in Florida’s elementary school classrooms – the Parental Rights in Education Act.
He and the Florida legislature have been working to eliminate the virtual autonomy the company enjoyed over Walt Disney World for more than century.
Florida lawmakers passed a bill in February giving DeSantis effective control over a board that oversees municipal services and development in a special district in central Florida that encompasses Walt Disney World resort.
Current Disney CEO Bob Iger called the move a retaliation, “anti-business” and “anti-Florida.”
Before the takeover by DeSantis appointees, Disney pushed through changes to the special tax district agreement that limit the board’s action for decades.
“What they tried to do is an embarrassment,” a senior administration source told the New York Post. “The narrative the left is spinning is that Gov. DeSantis was outmaneuvered. But this is far from over, and he’s going to have the last laugh.”
Disney “got used to doing whatever they wanted for far too long,” one source said. “Not this time.” The source added DeSantis is “not afraid of a fight on this.”
But Disney appeared to strike back when, just before stepping down, members of the previous board controlled by the corporate giant passed covenants that transferred developmental power to the company, leaving DeSantis’ new body largely without real power, including blocking the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District from using the name “Disney” or the likenesses of its famed characters without company permission.
However, senior DeSantis administration officials said Disney broke the law by intentionally limiting legally required public notices of the new deal to shield it from scrutiny and make it easier to pass.
“The Florida Legislature and Gov. DeSantis worked to put Disney on an even playing field,” said communications chief Taryn Fenske. “Disney got caught red-handed attempting to undermine Florida’s duly enacted legislation.”