Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida lawmakers ratcheted up pressure on Walt Disney World on Monday by announcing legislation that will use the regulatory powers of Florida government to exert unprecedented oversight on the park resort’s rides and monorail.
Lawmakers will introduce a bill in coming weeks that would end an exemption for Disney parks when it comes to ride inspections by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, DeSantis said at a news conference near Disney World.
The agriculture agency is responsible for inspecting amusement rides in Florida, but an exception was carved out for the state’s largest theme park operators, such as Disney and Universal Destinations & Experiences. Under the proposal, the exemption would end for rides located in special districts, which basically targets just Disney World.
An emailed inquiry seeking comment was sent to Disney on Monday.
DeSantis’ announcement was the latest in a tit-for-tat between Disney and the governor that started last year when the entertainment giant publicly opposed the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation barring school instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. In retaliation, Florida lawmakers passed, and DeSantis signed, legislation reorganizing Disney World’s company-controlled government, allowing the governor to appoint the five members of the Board of Supervisors instead of Disney.
Last month, the new DeSantis-appointees claimed their Disney-controlled predecessors pulled a fast one by stripping the new board of most powers and giving Disney control over design and construction at the theme park resort before the new members could take their seats.
DeSantis on Monday said the agreement between Disney and previous supervisors was illegal, claiming it was self-dealing and proper advance notice wasn’t given before the old board approved it, and that lawmakers had the authority to revoke it.
The governor also suggested the new board should sell the district’s utility in order to pay down the district’s $1 billion debts.
In taking on Disney, DeSantis has advanced his reputation as a culture warrior willing to battle political opponents and wield the power of state government to accomplish political goals. It is a strategy he is likely to follow through his expected 2024 run for the White House.
Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, DeSantis suggested Monday that the new board or lawmakers could take other actions with the Disney’s 27,000 acres (10,926 hectares) in central Florida, such as building a state park, a competing theme park or a prison.
“I think the possibilities are endless,” DeSantis said.