- DeSantis made it clear that he won’t let Disney off easy after the company’s power grab this year.
- He threatened to build a state prison and said the legislature would impose new ride inspections.
- Disney hasn’t said what it’ll do next, but it’s not expected to give up its power without a fight.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is taking a third swing at Walt Disney World after the company humiliated the Republican governor by making a sly power grab to keep control of its land.
During a press conference in Lake Buena Vista, Florida — the city where Disney is located — DeSantis announced a slew of forthcoming reprisals against the resort and theme park, including the possibility of building on the 40 square miles of land that borders it.
He floated the possibility of turning the land into a state park, another theme park, or even a state prison. Such development could affect home values on nearby properties.
“Who knows? I just think that the possibilities are endless,” DeSantis said, adding that the board he appointed to oversee Disney’s land would also consider selling utilities housed on the district to a private entity.
The governor didn’t stop there. He previewed a bill he said the legislature would introduce next week that would impose new inspections regulations on Disney, including on its monorail and its rides.
DeSantis has been trying to tear down a decades-long provision long on the books that gives Disney special self-governing privileges in Florida — privileges that many other businesses, including rival theme parks such as Sea World and Universal Studios, don’t have.
While those parks must run their plans by zoning commissions or building-inspection departments, Disney doesn’t have to. This makes their operations run more efficiently, saving them time and money.
“If these are not good laws, then everyone should be exempt,” DeSantis said. “You shouldn’t just say one corporation should be exempt.”
The board DeSantis appointed to oversee Disney is scheduled to meet Wednesday. At that time, DeSantis said, the group would void the loophole that stripped them of their power. The legislature would pass a bill on that front just to assure it would go through, DeSantis said, but predicted the Disney maneuver held “legal infirmities.”
Disney’s power grab in question left the business and Florida politics world shocked and amused, but also filled with trepidation over what the governor would do in retaliation against the family-favorite entertainment and tourism company.
Monday’s list of actions from the DeSantis administration and lawmakers partially answers that question. The governor also floated obligating Disney to post signs at its hotels to warn about human trafficking, creating more workforce affordable housing, banning mask mandates from its district, giving the district’s first responders raises, and appraising Disney’s property to see whether its property taxes should be higher.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson said at the press conference that the new bill would allow his office to inspect rides at large theme parks after somebody is injured in order to determine whether the ride is safe to continue operating. His agency oversees the division of consumer services, which currently oversees injuries on theme-park rides, with the exception of large theme parks such as Disney.
“One word of advice to Disney Corporation going forward,” Republican state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, said at the press conference. “Just let it go, let it go,” he joked, invoking one of the songs from the Disney movie “Frozen.”
The Disney feud is one of several actions DeSantis has taken as governor that have burnished his brand as a Republican willing to use the power of government to retaliate against opponents who publicly disagree with him, and to achieve policy goals. DeSantis is widely expected to announce a presidential bid as early as May, when Florida’s lawmaking session is over.
DeSantis made his Disney announcement as another storm, of hail, thunder, and rain, descended on Broward County, compounding floods in the area that were still abating from last week and grounding planes at Fort Lauderdale International Airport.