Florida Senate advances DeSantis priorities on redistricting and Disney during special session

U.S. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is shown here in Orlando, Florida on February 24, 2022.

By Dianne Gallagher, Steve Contorno and Rachel Janfaza, CNN

(CNN) -- The Florida state Senate on Wednesday advanced legislation pushed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis during the state's special legislative session: a new congressional map submitted by the governor and a pair of bills aimed at Disney.

The DeSantis-backed map -- which proposes an aggressively partisan redrawing of the state's congressional boundaries that could help the Republican Party pick up four seats in the US House of Representatives this November -- passed the GOP-led Senate along party lines.

During the special session, state senators also passed a bill that would eliminate the unique status that allows Disney to operate as an independent government around its Orlando-area theme parks. One Republican, Sen. Jeff Brandes, voted with Democrats against the bill.

Additionally, the state Senate gave final passage along party lines to a bill that would eliminate a Disney carve-out in a social media bill that was signed into law last year but put on hold by a federal judge.

The Florida House still must pass the bills. It is expected to hold final debate and votes on Thursday.

The bills all have received blowback from Democrats in the state.

Democrats have criticized the map because it eliminates two seats held by Black members of Congress, while adding several likely Republican districts to the state.

The Republican-controlled legislature passed a different congressional district map during the regular session, but DeSantis vetoed that version. Florida Republicans then said they would allow the governor to decide how to reapportion the state's congressional districts. DeSantis offered his map last week, and it was the only version considered by the Senate during the special session.

While the special session was initially called to finalize the once-a-decade work of reapportioning congressional lines, state lawmakers added the Disney legislation to the docket after DeSantis on Tuesday escalated his weeks-long feud with Disney, challenging lawmakers in a surprise bombshell announcement to unravel the 55-year-old Reedy Creek Improvement Act, a unique Florida law that helped establish Walt Disney World in the state by giving the brains behind Mickey Mouse operational autonomy.

Within hours, Republican lawmakers delivered, advancing a pair of bills targeting Disney over its objections to a new law limiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Once upon a time Disney was a great partner with the state of Florida," said Rep. Jackie Toledo, a Tampa Republican. "We've granted them privileges because of our shared history, shared goals and shared successes. Shamefully, Disney betrayed us."

It now appears almost certain that by the end of the week, the long-standing symbiotic arrangement that helped grow Disney into an iconic entertainment brand and Florida into an international travel destination could be dissolved.

GOP-controlled committees in the state House and Senate voted in favor of a bill that would end the special district on June 1, 2023.

Another bill, to subject Disney to a state law that allows people to sue Big Tech companies for censorship, also passed out of initial committees Tuesday afternoon. Disney had won an exemption from the bill last year. A federal judge has blocked the law but Florida is appealing the ruling.

Republicans in Florida and Disney have been at odds for months over legislation that prohibits schools from teaching young children about sexual orientation or gender identity. After initially declining to weigh in, Disney CEO Bob Chapek publicly criticized Florida lawmakers for passing what opponents called the "Don't Say Gay" bill and apologized to the company's LGBTQ employees for not being a stronger advocate.

Chapek announced that the company would stop making political donations in Florida after decades of contributing generously, mostly to Republicans, including a $50,000 donation to DeSantis' reelection effort.

The-CNN-Wire
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