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Florida lawmakers to discuss takeover of Disney self-governing district

Disney World
Disney World in Florida
(Ted Shaffrey / Associated Press)
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Florida lawmakers will meet next week to complete a state takeover of Walt Disney World’s self-governing district and debate proposals on immigration and election policy, as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to leverage national political fissures ahead of an expected White House run.

Republican leaders of the Legislature, in coordination with DeSantis, on Friday ordered lawmakers to convene for a special session next week to deal with the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the Disney government is known.

In addition, they will also consider legislation creating a program to relocate migrants and make clear the statewide prosecutor has authority to prosecute election crimes in federal and state races.

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The agenda marks a sustained focus by DeSantis on issues such as immigration, election rules, gender and sexuality, with the ascendant Republican focusing on political divides as he positions himself for a potential 2024 presidential run.

The meeting will represent the latest development in a high-profile feud between DeSantis and Disney over the company’s criticism over a law dubbed by critics as “Don’t Say Gay,” which bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and lessons deemed not age-appropriate.

The governor, in pushing lawmakers to strip the company of its self-governing status, displayed a willingness to go after one of the state’s biggest employers and political donors, reinforcing his combative leadership style.

Disney sent a letter to shareholders imploring them not to vote for Nelson Peltz, an activist shareholder trying to gain a seat on Disney’s board.

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The special session had been rumored to focus on Disney, but Friday’s announcement detailing the additional subjects also ensures heavy attention on the governor’s approach to voting rules and immigration, key issues of conservative Republican primary voters.

The memo issued Friday does not offer much detail on the proposals, and bills have not yet been introduced.

The election crimes prosecution measure comes after some charges linked to the governor’s new election police unit were dropped because of jurisdiction issues. The memo characterizes the measure as a clarification of state law.

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Lawmakers will also create a program to transport immigrants in the country illegally to another state if they’ve already been processed by the federal government and the migrants volunteer. DeSantis has already used part of a $12-million fund, paid for by taxpayers, to fly about 50 South American migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., in protest of federal immigration policy.

The squabble between DeSantis and Disney began last year, when the entertainment giant publicly opposed the education restrictions and said that it would pause political donations in the state and that it would support organizations working to oppose the law.

DeSantis moved quickly to criticize the company, calling it a purveyor of purported “woke” ideologies that he says are inappropriate for children, and gave lawmakers the ability to eliminate the Disney government as the Legislature was meeting for a special session on redistricting.

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The GOP-controlled Legislature in April approved legislation to dissolve Reedy Creek by June 2023, beginning a closely watched process that would determine the structure of government that controls the company’s sprawling property.

The memo does not offer much detail on the future of the district, only that the bill will “revise the governance and powers of Reedy Creek Improvement District, while protecting local taxpayers from the District’s debts.”

The creation of the Reedy Creek district was instrumental in Disney’s decision to build near Orlando in the 1960s. Having a separate government allows the company to provide zoning, fire protection, utilities and infrastructure services on its land.

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The special session will also adjust language in current laws addressing endorsement deals for college athletes.

Florida was one of the first states to pass a law allowing college athletes to profit off their name, image or likeness, but it doesn’t allow people affiliated with universities to help secure endorsement deals. The proposal would lift that provision to make Florida more competitive with other states that don’t have the restriction.

Lawmakers will also consider a bill to provide more relief money for Hurricane Ian and Nicole recovery efforts, according to the memo.

AP writer Brendan Farrington contributed to this report.

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