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DeSantis Set to Sign Bill Closing Disney Loophole in Tech Law

April 21, 2022, 5:30 PM

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ escalating battle against Walt Disney Co. will include closing a loophole written with Disney in mind in a state law governing social media platforms.

The Florida House on Thursday passed a bill (S.B. 6C) removing an exemption from a law that permits fines of $250,000 a day when candidates for statewide office are blocked from a social media platform for more than 14 days. The bill passed the Florida Senate on Wednesday, also along party lines. The House vote was 70 to 38 and the Senate vote was 24 to 15.

The House voted without questions or debate on the chamber floor after Democrats in the chamber continued a protest that interrupted debate over a congressional redistricting bill earlier in the day.

DeSantis’ signature will erase language in the 2021 statute (S.B. 7072) excluding social media platforms of companies that also own or operate a Florida theme park or entertainment complex.

The law currently isn’t enforced because a federal court ruled that it’s unconstitutional, partly because it didn’t apply evenly to all social media platforms.

Republican supporters said this week’s effort to rewrite the legislation was intended to bolster the state’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

Oral arguments in the case are set for next week. There’s no indication the court schedule inspired DeSantis’ surprise announcement to expand this week’s special session agenda to include stripping Disney of its privileges in the state.

Disney Criticism

The entertainment giant, one of Florida’s largest employers, crossed DeSantis by criticizing a law that critics call “don’t say gay” (H.B. 1557). It limits elementary school instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation.

It “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law,” the company said in a statement issued after Disney employees protested its decision to take no public stand on the legislation while it was being considered.

DeSantis expanded a special session intended just for redistricting to include repealing Disney’s special tax status and the social media provision.

Disney doesn’t currently operate a social media platform comparable to Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube—all platforms DeSantis criticized last year in pushing lawmakers to pass the restrictions.

The state’s definition of social media platform in the law includes “any information service, system, Internet search engine, or access software provider that provides or enables computer access by multiple users to a computer server, including an Internet platform or a social media site,” and has annual gross revenues over $100 million or at least 100 million monthly individual platform participants globally.

DeSantis’ signature will remove language declaring that the definition of “social media platform” doesn’t include “any information service, system, Internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex.”

Florida’s law is wrong “not because the legislature carved out a once-favored Florida company, but because the government has no business dictating what speech private businesses must host,” Computer & Communications Industry Association President Matt Schruers said in an emailed statement.

The association is one of the tech trade groups that sued after DeSantis signed the law. Its members include Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Google, and Pinterest, but not Disney.

The case is NetChoice LLC v. Attorney General, State of Florida, 11th Cir., No. 21-12355.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Kay in Miami at jkay@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com