DeSantis is an ascensant GOP governor and possible 2024 presidential candidate. He has fought with Disney over Disney's opposition to the new legislation that bars instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grades.
DeSantis raised the stakes Tuesday.
The governor proclamated that the GOP-controlled statehouse can take up bills to eliminate Disney's self-governing districts, as lawmakers returned to Capitol for a special session on congressional redistricting. Republicans quickly submitted proposals.
"I am announcing today, that we are expanding their call of what they will be considering this week. They will be looking at the congressional map. However, they will also be looking into terminating all special districts in Florida that were created prior to 1968. DeSantis did not provide further details.
Disney representatives didn't respond to an email request for comment Tuesday. It wasn't immediately clear how the removal of the district would impact the company or the neighboring governments.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District, a private government, is controlled by Disney World and established by the state Legislature, in 1967. It provides government services like zoning, fire protection, utilities, and infrastructure.
It was crucial to the company's 1960s plans to build near Orlando that the district was created and Disney had control over it. Officials from the company stated that they needed to be able to design a futuristic city alongside the theme park. However, the city did not materialize. Instead, EPCOT became the theme park.
After Disney declared that it would cease all political donations to the state in protest of the Parental Rights in Education Act, the push to punish the company is a natural response. Opponents of the law called it "Don't Say Gay", arguing that excluding lessons on sexual orientation or gender identity in the early grades would marginalize LGBTQ persons.
Disney is Florida's largest private employer: The company claimed it employed more than 60,000 people in Florida last year. The company's CEO Bob Chapek was criticized by LGBTQ advocates for his slow response to the bill. Some protestors walked out of the office.
DeSantis has been a vocal critic of Disney and others who are not in compliance with the law. This has attracted a lot of attention from conservative media outlets. DeSantis insists that the policy is reasonable. He says teachers should not discuss topics of sexual orientation or gender identity with students.
Republican lawmakers seem open to Disney's punishment and have filed proposals to dissolve the district by June 2023. DeSantis was a powerful governor who effectively pushed his priorities in statehouse. Both the GOP Senate president as well as the House speaker support him on the Disney matter.
Democrats quickly criticized the governor's decision as a retaliation for their company's position on the education bill. Others pointed out that Disney was a significant economic driver for the state.
Audrey Gibson, a Democratic Senator asked: "What world do we live in right now?" It's Florida, the freedom state. He will bring out the Gatling gun if they are not with the governor.
Richard Foglesong (retired Rollins College political scientist), whose book "Married to the Mouse" describes the formation of Reedy Creek, stated that he initially believed that "cooler heads" would win in the war of words between DeSantis, Disney.
"I think I was wrong. I underestimated or overestimated Gov. Foglesong stated that DeSantis was a legitimate threat. "I consider it a legitimate threat."