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Florida Senate passes measures targeting Disney, Governor's redistricting plan

The Florida Capitol complex in Tallahassee is picturedMICHAEL RIVERA / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
The Florida Capitol complex in Tallahassee is picturedMICHAEL RIVERA / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The Florida Senate on Wednesday passed two proposals aimed at punishing the Walt Disney Company for criticizing a controversial new law restricting instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools --- a measure critics have dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill. During a special session, the Senate also passed a Congressional redistricting plan proposed by Governor Ron DeSantis.

Taking aim at Disney

One of the measures targeting Disney would do away with the Reedy Creek Improvement District, established in the 1960s for what became one of the world’s iconic theme parks. The other proposal would eliminate an exemption for theme parks in a 2021 law crafted to punish social-media companies that strip users from platforms or flag users’ posts.

Senate President Wilton Simpson says Disney went too far, when the company said an education measure to restrict instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation should not have passed.

“By bringing that attention onto themselves in a lot of cases, it brought a lot of attention by legislators, as you’ve seen in the last 30 days," says Simpson. "Once we started opening up Reedy Creek and seeing what all was inside of it, it was determined by this legislature that we needed to take action.”

But Democratic State Senator Victor Torres, whose district includes Disney World, calls the bills “retribution” for opposing the education law. “This bill is a kneejerk reaction and a political stunt that is short-sighted and not well thought out,” he says.

The measures are scheduled to be voted on by the Florida House of Representatives on Thursday.

Congressional maps

Over the objections of Democrats who contend Republicans are being “bullied” by Governor Ron DeSantis, the Senate also on Wednesday approved a congressional redistricting plan that would favor the GOP.

The 24 to 15 party-line vote set the stage for final passage Thursday in the House.

The most-controversial parts of the plan would diminish the chances of electing Black Democrats in districts in North and Central Florida.
Republican State Senator Kelli Stargel defended a decision by legislative leaders to take up the governor’s proposal, rather than allow an impasse that could result in new lines being drawn by a court.

"These are constitutional maps. I think they are very thoughtful. I don’t think that any of us who vote for them today are racist or following the direct will of the governor," says Stargel. "We are doing our constitutional requirement of drawing a map."

The map would redraw District 5, which now runs from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee, to become a more-compact district in the Jacksonville area.
The seat is currently held by Congressman Al Lawson, a Black Democrat.

State Senator Loranne Ausley says the map is intended to limit minority access in North Florida. "Under this map, North Florida Black voters will not have a district that represents them, not in Duval, not in Tallahassee, not in any points in between," says Ausley.

DeSantis’ plan also would make significant changes in Central Florida’s District 10, which has been held by Val Demings, a Black Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate.

Overall, the governor’s plan is expected to increase the number of Republican-held congressional seats in the state from 16 to 20, based on 2020 voting patterns.

It is almost certain to quickly face legal challenges, which likely won’t be resolved until after the 2022 elections.

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