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Disney and DeSantis have been in a year-long feud that began after the company spoke out against a controversial bill. Here’s a timeline of the events.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, and a picture of Walt Disney World, right.Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Disney have been in a yearlong feud since the company denounced the state’s controversial Parental Rights in Education Act last March.

Marta Lavandier and John Raoux/AP

  • Disney spoke out against a DeSantis-backed law critics have called the Don’t Say Gay bill.
  • Since then, DeSantis has targeted Disney’s special self-governing powers in Florida.
  • In his latest parry, the governor floated building a state prison next to Disney World.

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis officially stripped Disney World of its self-governing status in February, he punctuated a long-simmering feud that has come to define his governorship in the Sunshine State with the declaration: “There’s a new sheriff in town.” 

But Disney hasn’t exactly abided.

The feud began after the entertainment giant spoke out last March against a controversial piece of legislation critics have called the Don’t Say Gay bill.

The Parental Rights in Education Act was signed in March 2022 and restricts classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida’s K-3 public schools. The state Board of Education voted on Wednesday to expand that law to cover grades 4 to 12.

In response to Disney’s criticism, DeSantis called to remove Disney World’s self-governing status, which allowed the company to call much of its own shots for the past six decades, most notably when it came to development processes. This has helped Disney World expand with less friction to the 25,000-acre theme park resort it is today.

Here’s a timeline of the events in the increasingly-heated battle. Representatives for DeSantis and Disney did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment. 

January 2022: Parental Rights in Education Act introduced

The Parental Rights in Education Act was first introduced to the state senate by Rep. Joe Harding in January 2022.

According to the bill’s text, “a school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels.” The bill targets K-3 classrooms but state officials recently moved to expand the scope of the law to cover grades 4-12.

March 2022: Disney responds

Disney initially refrained from taking a public stance on the issue until after employees and critics demanded the company denounce the bill.

Part of critics’ qualms with Disney was that it had previously donated to the bill’s sponsors, Harding and Sen. Dennis Baxley.

On March 11, Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek apologized for not speaking out sooner and said the company would pause all political donations in the state.

“Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” Chapek said in the statement. “It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights.”

Disney released another statement on March 28, vowing to have the law “repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.”

“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law,” the company said.

March 2022: DeSantis and Republican lawmakers plot

DeSantis swiftly responded that the company “crossed the line” after Disney announced it would work to repeal the law.

“For Disney to come out and put a statement and say that the bill should have never passed and that they are going to actively work to repeal it, I think, one, was fundamentally dishonest but, two, I think that crossed the line,” the governor said at a press conference.

Some Republican state lawmakers also began looking into the Reedy Creek Improvement Act, which passed in 1967 and granted Walt Disney World the power to essentially act like its own county government. The establishment of the Reedy Creek Improvement District gave Disney flexibility as it expanded its theme park.

Rep. Spencer Roach said on Twitter that lawmakers began meeting to discuss repealing the act.

“Yesterday was the 2nd meeting in a week w/ fellow legislators to discuss a repeal of the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act, which allows Disney to act as its own government,” Roach wrote. “If Disney wants to embrace woke ideology, it seems fitting that they should be regulated by Orange County.”

April 2022: DeSantis moves to strip Disney of its self-governing status

Republican lawmakers and the governor moved swiftly to revoke Disney’s self-governing status.

On April 22, 2022, DeSantis signed a bill that would eliminate the Reedy Creek district and its special governing jurisdiction.

But dissolving the board potentially meant leaving the burden of taxes that maintained roads and services such as the resort’s own fire department to taxpayers in the adjacent Orange and Osceola counties. The district also had a massive $1 billion debt.

February 2023: DeSantis adjusts, renames district, and appoints new board members

Rather than outright eliminating Reedy Creek, Florida lawmakers approved a bill that gave DeSantis control of the special district and allowed the governor to appoint new members to the five-seat board. The district would also be renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

DeSantis’ nominations included Bridget Ziegler, co-founder of the conservative Moms for Liberty group, and Martin Garcia, an attorney whose investment firm donated to DeSantis’ election, as chair of the new board.

A bill was passed by the Florida House on February 9 and promptly approved by the Senate the next day. DeSantis signed the bill on February 27.

February 2023: Disney’s stealth power grab

On February 8, the outgoing Reedy Creek board members signed an agreement with Disney that essentially gave the company full reign over any development plans or alterations. Chairman Garcia also said at a public meeting on Thursday that the board found another “11th hour deal” that allows a Disney subsidiary to set its own utilities rates until 2032.

The Declaration of Restrictive Covenants, as it’s called, was signed with little notice and just a day before the Florida House voted to give the state the power to take over the district.

Newly-appointed board members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District decried the move more than a month after the agreement was signed.

“This essentially makes Disney the government,” board member Ron Peri said during a meeting on March 29. “This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure.”

March and April 2023: DeSantis mulls over new plan of attack

The Florida governor has since floated a wide range of proposals in response to Disney’s quiet power grab.

DeSantis has threatened to build a competing state theme park or a prison. He suggested taxes on Disney hotels and placing road tolls around the amusement park. The new district board also is considering more inspection regulations, building workforce affordable housing on land that borders the resort and theme park, and selling the district-owned utilities.

“Who knows? I just think that the possibilities are endless,” DeSantis said at a press conference on Monday.

In addition, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District hired four law firms in hopes to nullify the agreement between Disney and the previous board while they find a legal path forward for their own plans.

April 2023: Allies on the new board and in the legislature move to claw back control from Disney

Florida Republican lawmakers came to DeSantis’ aid on April 18 to make the last-minute deal between the outgoing board and Disney void.

Sen. Blaise Ingoglie filed an amendment that states the new district cannot comply with any development agreement that was “executed within 3 months” before the new board was installed. It’s unclear if the move will work.

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District also met on April 19 to make the legal case that the board can legally move forward with its own plans for the district despite Disney’s power grab maneuver.

April 2023: Disney publicizes pride event and announced affordable housing plans

Shortly after DeSantis threatened to build a state prison next to Disney World, the company publicized its first LGBTQ event at Disneyland.

“The first-ever Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite is coming to Disneyland during Pride Month in June,” the company tweeted Monday afternoon.

The two-night event is scheduled to be held on June 13 and 15 at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA.

Disney also announced affordable housing development plans on 80 acres of the district land on the same day board members met on April 19. It was the first time the board met since the revelation of the agreement between the prior district board members and Disney.

According to a news release, Disney plans to build about 1,400 units of affordable housing with a goal completion date of 2026. The number of units goes beyond the initial plans of 1,300 affordable homes

April 2023: Florida expands ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law

In the midst of the spat between Disney and DeSantis, the Florida Board of Education moved to expand the controversial law that lies at the center of the feud.

On April 19, the state board approved a ban on classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity for all grades, including grades 4-12.

DeSantis previously endorsed the proposal in March.

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