Disney World vs. DeSantis: Legal Battle Escalates with Latest Blow
Florida lawmakers have passed a bill that would essentially void Walt Disney World’s development agreement with the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special district that oversees the theme park and resorts. The state House of Representatives passed the land use bill in a 75-34 vote, and it will now go to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for his signature. The 30-year development agreement ensured that Disney maintained a great deal of autonomy over land use on its property and that surrounding it, even after DeSantis led a successful state effort to take control of the special district and install the governor’s own appointees to its board.
This latest development in the ongoing dispute between Disney and the Florida government comes after the state installed its own appointees on the special district’s board, a move Disney claimed was an act of retaliation after the company opposed DeSantis’ parental rights legislation, known as the “don’t say gay” bill. Disney filed a federal lawsuit against the governor last week, contending that his actions violated the First Amendment and the Constitution’s contract clause, as well as the company’s right to due process.
The bill that passed on Wednesday includes a provision that prohibits the district from complying with the development agreement. More specifically, it bars special districts from complying with agreements executed within three months of a law being passed changing how a district’s board members are selected. The Disney development agreements were passed by the Reedy Creek board on February 8; DeSantis signed legislation giving the state control of the board on February 27.
Disney has contended that its development agreement, which includes a set of restrictive covenants, complied with the law. “All agreements signed between Disney and the district were appropriate and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law,” the company said last month.
Lawmakers on Wednesday also passed legislation that would allow the state greater oversight over inspections of monorails at the theme park. The special district board, now renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, voted earlier this week to counter Disney’s lawsuit with their own state litigation.
DeSantis has made it clear that he believes that “no corporation is above the law and the people of this state,” and that “it is wrong for one corporation to basically corrupt a local government, run it as their own fiefdom, be exempt from laws and have all kinds of benefits that nobody else has.” In his remarks this week, he took another swipe at Disney’s opposition to the “don’t say gay” law, adding in a dig at the company’s dealings with the Beijing government.
The ongoing legal battle between Disney and the Florida government appears to be far from over, with lawmakers passing two bills on Wednesday that target Walt Disney World’s monorail and the development agreement enacted with the former board of its special district. The move comes despite Disney’s allegations in court that the GOP’s attacks violate the company’s First Amendment rights.