Following a year-long dispute between Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and the entertainment behemoth, Florida lawmakers will return to the state Capitol in Tallahassee the following week to complete their efforts to revoke the Walt Disney Company’s special governing privileges.
According to communications sent to members by state House and Senate leaders on Friday afternoon, lawmakers in the GOP-controlled legislature will also consider changes to two other contentious DeSantis priorities – Florida’s new election police force and the state’s migrant transport program – to address legal issues that have prevented their full impact.
Just weeks before lawmakers were supposed to meet for the state’s annual legislative session, a special legislative session that starts on Monday will be busy. The reason that members were hurrying to address these issues before their regularly scheduled meeting was not made evident by legislative leaders.
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DeSantis has already started to outline a comprehensive program for the 60-day regular session that will begin in March. This agenda might serve as a springboard for a possible 2024 presidential campaign declaration later in the year. Suppose Republican leaders’ plans come to fruition.
In that case, the 1967-established Reedy Creek Improvement District, which effectively grants Disney, the state’s largest employer, control over the property in and around its central Florida theme parks, may enter a new age. After Disney’s then-CEO, Bob Chapek, openly denounced a plan to limit specific classroom education of s*xual orientation and gender identity that the governor ultimately signed into law, DeSantis set his eyes on Reedy Creek last year.
At DeSantis’ request, lawmakers decided to dissolve Reedy Creek in June 2023 during a special legislative session in April. But lawmakers left town without a strategy for ending Disney’s 50-year monopoly or ensuring taxpayers of Orange and Osceola counties wouldn’t be responsible for paying Reedy Creek’s $1 billion in debt. Reedy Creek informed its bondholders that Florida could not dissolve the district without taking on its obligations amid the controversy.
Since approving the legislation to end Reedy Creek, DeSantis has frequently reaffirmed his commitment to keeping the closure cost on the taxpayers. During a news conference earlier this week, DeSantis declared his desire for the state to take over the district.
He declared that we wouldn’t have a corporate running our government; it would return to the state. Disney won’t have self-government status any longer. We’ll check to see if there are any unique legal benefits before confirming that they are paying their fair share of taxes and paying down the debt.
The state had not yet submitted the necessary legislative framework since Friday afternoon. A call for comment from a DeSantis spokeswoman was not immediately answered, but House and Senate leaders claimed they were working with the governor’s office. CNN has contacted Disney’s corporate offices for comment.
A significant expansion of a program that received national attention last year after Florida paid for two flights that transported migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts will be considered by Florida lawmakers during the special session, allowing the DeSantis administration to transport migrants from anywhere in the United States.
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A legal dispute over whether the DeSantis administration broke a state statute restricting the transport of migrants from Florida has caused the program to stop. If enacted, the amendment would remove a substantial legal barrier that may otherwise prevent the DeSantis administration from continuing to run flights carrying immigrants from border states to Democratic-leaning regions.
Since the flights to Martha’s Vineyard in September, the program seems to have stopped. DeSantis emphasized that the transportation of migrants remains a focus of his immigration agenda in his budget plan issued this week, budgeting $12 million for its continuance till 2024.
The state House and Senate will explore handing DeSantis’ contentious new Office of Elections Crimes and Security the authority to prosecute crimes affecting elections, according to a letter from Florida House Speaker Paul Renner’s office. The suggestion comes after DeSantis launched an investigation into election fraud that led to the detention of 20 people but ran into trouble in court when a judge threw out a case against a Miami defendant because state prosecutors went beyond their powers.
Some of the most notable items on the schedule for the upcoming week will be carried over from DeSantis’ first stint as governor. The Republican leader was thrust into the spotlight throughout 2022 due to his dispute with Disney, the migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard, and the formation of a new election force. This led to adoring coverage from conservative media outlets and widespread criticism from Democrats in Florida and nationwide.
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