DeSantis: Florida Overcomes Disney Dispute

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has urged Walt Disney Parks and Resorts to withdraw its federal lawsuit against the state and embrace the modifications made to a special district that had long favored the theme park conglomerate. In an interview with CNBC focused on the economy, the Republican presidential hopeful stated that the state had “essentially moved on” from the issues related to the alterations to the former Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Amid an escalating feud between Governor DeSantis and Disney, the state legislature decided this year to replace the Reedy Creek district with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. These changes have subsequently triggered legal action at both the state and federal levels, with Disney arguing that the modifications were enacted in retaliation for its opposition to a law that restricts instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools, which will be implemented in 2022.

When asked about the federal lawsuit during the CNBC interview, Governor DeSantis responded, “Your competitors all do very well here. Universal. SeaWorld. They have not had the same special privileges as you have.” He further emphasized that his intention was to treat all companies equally moving forward and not grant extraordinary privileges to a single corporation.

The former Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was originally established in the 1960s, granted Disney substantial self-governance powers. In the process of revamping the district this year, the Republican-controlled legislature empowered Governor DeSantis to appoint the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

The state government is now seeking the dismissal of the federal lawsuit that was filed by Disney in April. The ongoing dispute between DeSantis and Disney stems from the opposition expressed by former Disney CEO Bob Chapek toward the law restricting instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. Governor DeSantis has made his stance against Disney a focal point of his presidential campaign.

Disney’s federal lawsuit argues that its First Amendment rights were violated and its business was negatively impacted by a targeted campaign of retribution orchestrated by DeSantis and other government officials due to its stance against the 2022 law. The lawsuit also alleges violations of constitutional provisions, including a prohibition on altering contracts, an unconstitutional taking of property without proper compensation, and violations of due process rights.

Before the newly appointed board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District could assume their positions, the former Reedy Creek board entered into development-related agreements with Disney. The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board has filed a state lawsuit contesting these agreements.

During the CNBC interview, Governor DeSantis criticized Disney, asserting that “I think parents have lost some confidence that this is a company that’s really speaking to what they want, the way it had been traditionally.”

In response to claims made by DeSantis that the dispute had led to a decrease in attendance at Disney’s Orlando parks, former Disney CEO Bob Iger dismissed these arguments as “preposterous.” Iger defended the company’s right to question the 2022 law, asserting that Disney had operated for nearly a century, creating products that they were proud of in terms of their impact on the world.

The lawsuit was not discussed by Iger during the second-quarter earnings call for the company, during which he acknowledged that Walt Disney World’s business had declined in the face of an overall “softening” of tourism in various parts of Florida.

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