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A prison at Disney World? DeSantis says he’ll reassert control over special Florida district

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a glass podium.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)
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A state prison next to the Most Magical Place on Earth? It’s not impossible, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suggested Monday in an apparent threat to Walt Disney Co. — the latest escalation in his months-long duel with the Burbank-based entertainment conglomerate.

“People are like ... ‘What should we do with this land?’” DeSantis said of property around the Walt Disney World amusement park, near Orlando, Fla. “Maybe create a state park. Maybe try to do more amusement parks. Someone even said, like, ‘Maybe you need another state prison.’ Who knows?”

Speaking during a press conference, the governor and possible 2024 presidential contender continued: “The possibilities are endless, and so that is now gonna be analyzed to see what would make the most sense.”

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DeSantis’ feud stems from Disney’s public opposition to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which last year banned education on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. DeSantis is pushing to expand the prohibition to all grades.

After Disney’s chief executive at the time, Bob Chapek, voiced opposition to the bill, DeSantis began trying to strip the mega-corporation of the self-governance that its Walt Disney World theme park has enjoyed in Central Florida for decades.

DeSantis signed legislation in late February that would allow the state to take control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which operated as Disney’s de facto private government for the area containing its parks and resorts.

DeSantis hand-picked members for the district’s new board, filling it with cultural conservatives and political allies — only to learn that the outgoing Reedy Creek supervisors had preemptively undercut the state’s power with a development deal, giving the House of Mouse authority until at least 21 years past the death of the last surviving descendant of King Charles III.

DeSantis, as expected, is looking to challenge the legitimacy of Disney’s maneuver.

“They thought that they could create some type of development agreements that would essentially render everything that we did null and void, and put them in control in perpetuity,” DeSantis said during his press conference. “Well, that’s not gonna work. That’s not gonna fly.”

DeSantis cited “a plethora of legal infirmities” in the Disney agreement and said a bill set to be introduced in Florida’s state legislature will revoke the deal and make sure that “the people’s will is established and is upheld.”

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Representatives for Disney declined to comment on Monday.

“All agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law,” a Disney spokesperson said last month.

Disney CEO Bob Iger, speaking at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, criticized the governor’s actions as retaliation against a company for exercising its 1st Amendment right to free speech.

“Our point on this is that any action that thwarts those efforts simply to retaliate for a position the company took sounds not just anti-business, but it sounds anti-Florida,” Iger said.

In addition to his veiled threat to build a prison next door to Cinderella Castle, DeSantis singled out Disney’s monorail system during his conference, claiming that the transit infrastructure is exempt from “any safety standards or inspections” and will soon be put back under state oversight.

Currently, under a 2001 memorandum of understanding with the state of Florida, Disney is required to report injuries on rides quarterly and deaths immediately. The MOU also provides for biannual site visits, consultations and reviews of the safety programs at Florida amusement parks.

“This idea of one corporation having its own government in Central Florida is something that is no longer in the best interests of the state,” said the governor, who has often used “woke capitalism” as a political cudgel. “My mantra was: You’re not going to have Disney have its own government.”

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