Amidst the rising and continued tension between Walt Disney World and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, North Carolina state senator Michael Garrett has introduced Senate Bill 594, “Mickey’s Freedom Restoration Act,” which invites Disney to the Tar Heel State and, ultimately, paves the way for any major new theme park to stake its claim in the State of North Carolina.
Spectrum News 13’s Ashley Carter shared the contents of the bill, which states:
Whereas, some state governments have recently begun to prioritize “culture war” politics over economic development; and Whereas, North Carolina has proven to be a stable and vibrant environment for businesses, both large and small, to flourish; and Whereas, the state government of North Carolina and its elected leaders from both political parties have prioritized economic development for the benefit of its citizens; and Whereas, North Carolina seeks to further strengthen its tourism and entertainment industries by welcoming businesses considering relocation; and Whereas, Bob Iger, the chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company, called actions taken by the state government of Florida “anti-business,” on April 3, 2023[.]
The bill establishes the 11-member North Carolina Family Amusement Park Study Commission, with the purpose “to develop strategies that encourage family amusement parks (family parks) to locate in tier one counties” by the following strategies:
- Studying and consulting major family parks outside of the State to determine (i) the amount of interest among family parks to expand into the State, (ii) the priorities of family parks when considering an expansion into a new state, and (iii) any other information relevant to developing a plan that recruits family parks and encourages them to expand into the State.
- Coordinating with relevant State and local governments and agencies, including the Department of Commerce, the Department of Transportation, and the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, to develop strategic economic incentive plans designed to encourage family parks to expand or relocate into the State.
The bill introduced earlier today makes reference to the ongoing tension between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Walt Disney World, calling out the state’s recent attempts to stifle Disney and, in turn, prioritizing “culture war politics over economic development.”
The language in the bill references Disney CEO Bob Iger’s statement regarding the ongoing moves against the company as “anti-business” and declares that North Carolina prioritizes economic development for the benefit of its citizens and openly welcomes Disney’s relocation to the Tar Heel State.
Ultimately, if passed, the bill would facilitate the formation of a North Carolina Family Amusement Park Study Commission to determine the feasibility of bringing a major new theme park to the state and what measures would best serve them in doing so. The bill would become effective on July 1, 2023.
North Carolina state senate’s Democratic leader, Dan Blue, Tweeted in response to the bill, “Florida doesn’t seem a good fit for the happiest place on earth these days. In NC, y’all still means all.” He added #DisneyWorld.
Though it’s unlikely that Walt Disney World would completely relocate, Disney has previously considered building theme parks and destinations in other states. Most notable was Disney’s America, a canceled theme park planned for Haymarket, Virginia.
Disney also operates Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa; Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort; and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort separate from theme parks.
A Lengthy Public Battle
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and The Walt Disney Company have been embroiled in a public feud now for over a year. DeSantis started this lengthy fight against the Walt Disney World Resort after the company’s previous CEO, Bob Chapek, spoke out against Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Starting with the takeover and renaming of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board is now staffed with members handpicked by DeSantis. It aims to control how Walt Disney World Resort functions, builds, and maintains its infrastructure. One of these members is Ron Peri, known for calling homosexuality evil and claiming it is caused by drinking contaminated tap water.
DeSantis to Add State Inspections of Monorails and Rides
DeSantis claimed that Walt Disney World Resort is no longer “above the law,” and would be subject to state inspections of the Monorail and the attractions within the parks.
The Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson stated, “This legislation will allow my department to conduct inspections when someone is seriously injured on an amusement ride. Thankfully it doesn’t happen that often in Florida, but when it does we have the right to inspect and decide when it can safely reopen.”
While “all major theme parks” was mentioned during this discussion, they did not clarify if these measures would extend to other currently exempted properties, including Universal Orlando Resort or SeaWorld Orlando.
These controlling measures are in response to the February 8, 2023, development agreement between Disney and the former Reedy Creek board before Governor DeSantis placed the special administrative district under his own direct control. The deal, approved at meetings publicly announced in accordance with state law, essentially ensured an additional 30 years of relative status quo, allowing Disney similar guarantees the corporation had before the Governor signed the Reedy Creek takeover bill into law.
Iger Amenable to Resolution
At the April 2023 annual Disney shareholder meeting, current CEO Bob Iger accused Gov. DeSantis of punishing Disney for exercising their right to free speech. “We love the state of Florida,” Iger added, recalling the company’s many investments in the community over the years. He also expressed gratitude for previous cooperation alongside the Sunshine State’s elected government officials before stating that “any action that thwarts these efforts simply to retaliate is anti-business and anti-Florida.” Iger also announced the company’s plan to invest an additional $17 billion and create over 13,000 jobs in the State of Florida over the next ten years.
Iger told Time, after being named one of their top 100 most influential people of 2023, that he would “be glad” to sit down and talk with DeSantis, but doesn’t think that’s likely to happen.
“It was the vision and the dream of Walt Disney,” Iger said, “turning swampland in Central Florida into a business that employs over 75,000 people, that is visited by tens of millions of people every year, that is a major tourist destination in the United States, and for the state of Florida, that creates huge value for our company and its employees, and for the state of Florida itself. Our sole goal in Florida is to continue creating that value for all those constituencies. All we want is a relationship with the state that enables us to continue to do that. We have the wherewithal and we have the desire to continue to invest there to grow that business so that we can hire more people so that we can increase our attendance, and so that we can basically increase more value for the Walt Disney Company and for the state of Florida.”