Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed three landmark bills into law Friday that are sure to please his GOP base while inviting legal challenges from political opponents.
The state legislature passed bills approving the governor's plans for post-census redistricting and stripping the Walt Disney Company of its de facto self-governance status during its special legislative session this week, delivering a string of legislative victories for the Republican star widely considered to be a top presidential contender for 2024.
“I’m just not comfortable having that type of agenda get special treatment in my state,” DeSantis said of Disney's legal carveouts amid the company's opposition to legislation banning discussing sex and gender with young schoolchildren, per Deadline. “We have everything thought out. Don’t let anyone tell you that Disney is going to get a tax cut out of this. They are going to pay more taxes as a result of this."
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The first bill dissolves Reedy Creek Improvement District's special status. Since 1967, RCID, which is mostly run by Disney, has maintained control over basic governing functions within its borders, such as taxation, zoning, infrastructure, and more. The arrangement is widely believed to have helped save Disney significant amounts of money and streamline its development process for the Walt Disney World Resort. With the district dissolving, local taxpayers could be on the hook for $2 billion in debt the company has amassed, according to Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald.
While DeSantis and state Republicans maintain they pulled the special status because they "don’t support special privileges in law just because a company is powerful," many Democrats have suggested the move is retaliation against the company for voicing its opposition to the Parental Rights in Education bill, which critics have dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill despite those words not appearing in the legislation.
Disney and Florida Republicans have been ensnared in a fraught public relations battle in recent weeks. The law imposes restrictions on classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation, but critics such as Disney maintain it harms gay students. Many Republicans in the state, including DeSantis, have expressed dismay at Disney's public condemnations of the law and interference in the state's political process.
Disney did not respond to a request for comment from the Washington Examiner.
The governor also signed a Republican-friendly congressional map into effect Friday, marking a major political victory for himself as the monthslong scuffle over the state's congressional apportionment shifts to the courts. The map is set to face hefty litigation, with a coalition of civil rights groups filing a lawsuit seeking to block the map, which they argue illegally gerrymanders and diminishes the power of black voters.
But for now, Florida has joined 46 other states in enacting a legally binding congressional map, leaving Missouri, New York, and New Hampshire as the only three states remaining without finalized congressional maps. The Florida map is expected to expand Republicans' current 16-11 congressional advantage to 20-8, giving the party 71% of the state's congressional seats. For comparison, former President Donald Trump won the state with about 51% of the vote in 2020.
Florida had long been mired in a contentious intraparty melee over the map, with DeSantis lobbying the state legislature to more aggressively tilt district lines in favor of the GOP. Ultimately, DeSantis prevailed in the Republican tussle, demonstrating his star power and influence within conservative circles. Last week, Republican leadership in the legislature effectively caved to his demands and agreed to pass a map that complied with his wishes.
DeSantis also signed the Stop Woke Act, which bans critical race theory in major institutions such as schools, colleges, and corporations. Critical race theory contends that many U.S. institutions are plagued with systemic racism against minorities. The bill, signed as part of the governor's Friday whirlwind, will go into effect July 1 and is intended to address concerns from students and workers who feel uncomfortable about critical race theory lessons that have been imposed upon them.
"We believe in education, not indoctrination," DeSantis proclaimed during a news conference Friday, per ABC Action News. "We believe an important component of freedom in the state of Florida is the freedom from having oppressive ideologies opposed upon you without your consent."
Governor DeSantis signs anti-CRT legislation putting an end to corporate and educational indoctrination in Florida. https://t.co/NjOmwJcu13— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) April 22, 2022
The bill has drawn opposition from some free speech groups, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE has historically challenged colleges that have targeted conservative students.
“HB7 demands that university administrators dictate to faculty whether and how they can discuss issues, like race and gender, that dominate debate on and off-campus,” said FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh in a statement. “Florida faculty have the constitutional right to speak freely in the classroom and deserve to know that they are not alone if they decide to push back against this legislation.”
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The state legislature had been in a special session this week to sort out the redistricting impasse, but DeSantis pressed it to take up other issues as well. The session lasted until Friday.