Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix
The legal fight between Gov. Ron DeSantis and The Walt Disney Co. broadened Monday when a board hand-picked by the governor voted to countersue the company over its development plans.
The move came less than a week after Disney filed a First-Amendment lawsuit accusing the government of political retaliation after it criticized last year’s Parental Rights in Education Act, or “Don’t Say Gay,” restricting discussion of LGBTQ+ issued in public schools.
The new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board voted to defend the lawsuit that Disney filed Wednesday in federal court in Tallahassee and also to sue Disney directly in state court, according to published reports.
DeSantis said following the vote that he’d had no advance notice of the new round of litigation but is all for it.
“I saw the report [about the vote]. I didn’t know that they necessarily were doing that. But I think what they’re gonna do is just say, here is why it’s invalid. Of course, the Legislature is also going to invalidate it,” DeSantis said during a news conference called so he could sign “law and order” legislation.
He accused critics of his treatment of one of Florida’s largest employers of “trying to pursue an agenda and trying to pursue a narrative” against him.
“The reality is, there’s a lot of people who always used to criticize this arrangement that Disney had as being corrupt, of being unfair. And then the minute I was the one to come in and help unwind it, then they flipped just because they want to go against me. That’s just their partisanship that’s showing,” he said.
“You’re seeing people shill for a multinational corporation to have special benefits and corporate welfare as if that is something that’s really important.”
Disney’s federal lawsuit alleges that DeSantis launched a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” against the company. “In America, the government cannot punish you for speaking your mind,” the brief reads.
The lawsuit asks the court to invalidate legislation passed earlier this year dissolving the Reedy Creek Improvement District, created by the Legislature in the late 1960s to allow Disney to run its own government in areas where the company operates amusement parks and other developments.
In that district’s place, the legislation created the Central Florida district. But, just before that board became active, Reedy Creek voted to adopt development agreements returning to Disney the right to decide how to build on its property.
Disney’s suit also names acting Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Meredith Ivey and all five members of the Central Florida board.
“It’s been very disappointing to watch this particular company, what they’ve done by advocating things like the sexualization of children, very close relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. That’s all very problematic, but at the end of the day it’s about good governance,” the governor said.
Disney had come out against 2022’s Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as “Don’t Say Gay,” barring any mention of sexual orientation or gender identify in K-12 public schools in certain grades.
DeSantis’ supporters accused opponents of that law of trying to “groom” young children — a word formerly reserved for adults who try to lure kids into sex.
Disney, like a lot of U.S. corporations, does business in China.
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