TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida lawmakers will meet Monday to complete a state takeover of Walt Disney World’s self-governing district and expand a migrant relocation program, key conservative priorities of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis ahead of his expected White House run.
Republican leaders of the statehouse, in coordination with DeSantis, have ordered the Legislature to convene in a special session to restructure the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the Disney government is known.
Lawmakers will also consider a proposal to create a state department focused on migrant relocations, a move that comes after the governor flew a group of South American migrants from Texas to Massachusetts in protest of federal border policy.
The session continues a focus by DeSantis focus on social issues including sexual orientation, gender and immigration as the Republican governor exploits national political fissures on his path to a potential 2024 presidential run.
The meeting is the latest development in a high-profile feud between DeSantis and Disney over the company’s criticism of 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 going after Disney, displayed a willingness to penalize one of the state’s biggest employers and political donors, reinforcing the combative leadership style that has propelled him to national political stardom and appeals to conservative primary voters.
Lawmakers are expected to create a program to transport immigrants who are in the country illegally to another state if they’ve already been processed by the federal government and if the migrants volunteer.
DeSantis had already used part of a $12 million fund, paid for by taxpayers, to fly about 50 South American migrants from Texas to the Massachusetts resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, bringing widespread condemnation.
Another proposal to be taken up during the session would make it clear the statewide prosecutor has authority to prosecute election fraud in federal and state races.
DeSantis, with statehouse backing, created an election police unit last year to investigate fraud and other crimes to satisfy what has become an important issue to conservative voters following the 2020 election. Some charges resulting from investigations by the election police force have been dropped because of jurisdiction issues.
The squabble between DeSantis and Disney began last year, when the entertainment giant publicly opposed the “Don’t Say Gay” education legislation and said it would pause political donations in the state and support organizations working to oppose the law.
DeSantis and other Republicans moved quickly to criticize the company, calling it a purveyor of “woke” ideologies that are inappropriate for children.
At DeSantis’ request, the GOP-dominated statehouse in April approved legislation to eliminate Disney’s Reedy Creek government by June 2023, beginning a closely watched process that would determine the structure of government that controls the company’s sprawling property.
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.
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.