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The political battle between Disney and Florida Gov. DeSantis heats up

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The political battle between Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis continues. This morning, the recently created Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which is led by DeSantis appointees, will vote on a resolution that would give it jurisdiction over Disney attractions and the land around them. Here's WMFE's Danielle Prieur.

DANIELLE PRIEUR, BYLINE: This week, DeSantis was near Disney World to announce that he wants to decide what'll happen with the land around the Disney theme parks.

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RON DESANTIS: People have said, you know, maybe have another - maybe create a state park. Maybe try to do more amusement parks. Someone even said, like, maybe you need another state prison. Who knows? I mean, I just think that the possibilities are endless.

PRIEUR: DeSantis thought he had the power to control that land around Disney when he formed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District in February. It would replace the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which acted as its own government of the theme parks since the 1950s. But before that switch, the former board signed over its land use power to Disney. So in this battle, we're at Disney 1, DeSantis 0. At the time, Disney CEO Bob Iger said this about DeSantis' actions.

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BOB IGER: Sounds not just anti-business, but it sounds anti-Florida.

PRIEUR: The war of words between the governor and Disney started last March when Disney took a stand against the Parental Rights in Education law. It bans discussions of gender and sexuality in K-3 classrooms. This battle over ideology has turned into one of geography. Today, the new board will try to regain its power over land use around the parks. It plans to vote on a resolution that would give it, quote, "superior authority" over the district when it comes to development. Disney did not comment on this proposal. Florida lawyer Jacob Schumer, whose expertise is land use, says it's not clear what the district could do with new powers.

JACOB SCHUMER: Everything about Reedy Creek, the takeover and how the district operates from here on out is uncharted waters.

PRIEUR: For one, he says the new district is funded by Disney. So if Disney decides to take legal action, it would kind of be suing itself.

SCHUMER: Disney will be funding the opposition at all points in any fight. So it's in a very strange situation.

PRIEUR: DeSantis also wants to rev up control over Disney through inspections. He's asking the state Legislature to give the agriculture commissioner, who already inspects county fairs, the power to inspect Disney rides, including the iconic monorail.

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DESANTIS: This monorail is exempt. They exempted the monorail from any safety standards or inspections. So they're going to go and make sure that the monorail is subject to oversight, just like everything else would be in the state of Florida.

PRIEUR: If you're keeping score at home, that's Disney 1, DeSantis 1. But for tourists to the parks, this battle over land use and inspections won't impact their experience, says Rollins College business professor Mark Johnston.

MARK JOHNSTON: Well, still, Disney is still, you know, according to them, the happiest place on Earth.

PRIEUR: Johnston says Disney is one of Florida's largest employers and just too big to pull up roots.

JOHNSTON: When you go on property, you go to the parks, it's the same experience. Nothing has changed. It is their premier theme park location.

PRIEUR: But Disney has announced layoffs. Seven thousand people throughout the company, including at its theme parks, will lose their jobs before the summer. Johnston says it's unclear whether the tiff between Governor Ron DeSantis and Disney has contributed to these layoffs, but he says it's definitely not helping.

For NPR News, I'm Danielle Prieur in Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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