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Get the latest coverage of the 2023 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and 90.7 WMFE.

Florida lawmakers send two bills to Gov. Ron DeSantis targeting Disney

Cinderella Castle, the Main Street Train Station, and Disney Monorail are seen at Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom on August 13, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Charles Sykes
Cinderella Castle, the Main Street Train Station, and Disney Monorail are seen at Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom on August 13, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The fight between Disney and the state of Florida has ramped up even more.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is locked in an ongoing battle with the entertainment giant. The company drew the governor’s ire last year when it came out against a law limiting classroom instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Now, two bills are heading to the governor, and one of them requires state inspections of Walt Disney World’s monorail system.

No transportation system would be impacted by the bill except Disney’s monorail. “That type of punitive behavior by government I find to be inappropriate,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, who tried unsuccessfully to broaden the language to include any private company that manages trains.

The bill doesn’t name Disney. But the wording requires oversight of “any governmentally or privately owned fixed-guideway transportation systems operating in this state which are located within an independent special district created by a local act which have boundaries within two contiguous counties.”

Disney’s property sits in Orange and Osceola counties, and the bill's language applies only to Disney.

“There was an incident in 2009 where a death occurred," said Rep. Shane Abbott, R-DeFuniak Springs, referring to a collision between the elevated trains that killed a monorail driver. "FDOT's looking at inspecting this so that we know what issues do arise. What this is important for is, we don't know what we don't know right now.”

In an earlier discussion in the Senate, Sen. Nick DiCeglie, R-St. Petersburg, noted there had been multiple incidents at Disney. “There were accidents in 2010, 2014, 2015, 2021, and 2022," he told the chamber. "I want to go to Disney with my family because I do love Disney. I want to make sure when I'm on the monorail that that monorail is safe.”

“This is a double standard,” said Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami, before the final vote in the House. She called out the political motivations behind the bill. “If we are singling out a particular company, which is the assertion here, then that is significant, and it is problematic," Joseph said. "It is exactly the kind of things that they do in these countries that we claim to be so different from.”

Another bill passed by the Legislature nullifies the development agreements made between Disney and the outgoing Reedy Creek Improvement District. Disney tried to maintain control over its properties through restrictive covenants at the last minute. Now, the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, with board members appointed by DeSantis, is trying to claw back its authority by nullifying those agreements and amping up pressure on Disney.

Last month, DeSantis said the new board might be interested in developing the land that sits directly around the Orlando area theme parks. He mentioned the possibility of a state park, more amusements parks, or "another state prison.”

All of this is happening because Disney leaders spoke out against last year’s so-called Don’t Say Gay law, officially known as Parental Rights in Education. The entertainment giant was criticized by fans and employees, many of whom are part of the LGBTQ community, for not saying something sooner. When Disney did speak up, DeSantis clapped back.

“They say, ‘we are going to work to repeal parents rights in Florida.’ And I’m just thinking to myself, you’re a corporation based in Burbank, California, and you’re going to marshal your economic might to attack the parents of my state? We view that as a provocation, and we are going to fight back against that," DeSantis told a cheering crowd at an event at a Hialeah Gardens charter school.

That day, DeSantis signed bills passed during a special legislative session. One did away with the Reedy Creek special governing district, which was created in the 1960s and gave Disney self-governing power. The other removed an exemption for theme parks in a 2021 law designed to punish social-media companies that strip users from platforms.

A year later, anti-Disney legislation is still being passed. The company filed a federal lawsuit last month against DeSantis and the new district board over what it calls government retaliation. In turn, the new board is suing Disney.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.