Disney Files Lawsuit Against Florida Governor for Violating Constitutional Rights Over “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

Disney has filed a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, alleging that he and other Florida lawmakers have violated the company’s constitutional rights by engaging in a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” against Disney over its opposition to the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill.[0] The bill, which restricts discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, has been a source of conflict between Disney and the governor for over a year.[1] The lawsuit alleges that DeSantis has economically harmed the company and violated its constitutional rights.[2]

The conflict between Disney and DeSantis has its roots in the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District in the 1960s, which gave Disney self-governance power and allowed it to incur bonded indebtedness to finance roads and other types of infrastructure. Earlier this year, DeSantis championed state action to strip Disney of its control over Reedy Creek and give oversight of the special district to his own appointees.[3] Disney has attempted to retain some of its autonomy over development, but DeSantis and his board appointees are challenging that too.[3]

Disney’s unique degree of autonomy as a private corporation is one of the issues at stake in its legal battle with the governor.[4] The charter that Disney negotiated with local government officials in 1967 created the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which allowed Disney World to function like a quasi-county government in charge of its own roads, construction services, building permits, fire department, and waste collection services.[4]

Disney CEO Bob Iger has argued that the company’s autonomy has enabled it to invest in Florida and create jobs, and that the state has benefited from Disney’s presence. He has also argued that the conflict between Disney and the governor is about retaliation for the company’s exercise of its right to free speech.

The bill signed by DeSantis seeks to undo development agreements reached by the former board of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, and would give new boards four months to review any development agreements and decide if they should be re-adopted. The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board has also filed a state lawsuit seeking to overturn the development agreements.[5]

Disney has announced plans to spend over $17 billion at Walt Disney World in Florida over the next decade, which would create around 13,000 jobs at the company and generate even more taxes for Florida.[6] The company currently employs over 75,000 people in the area.[0]

0. “Bob Iger Slams Ron DeSantis for Disney World Fight on Earnings Call” IndieWire, 10 May. 2023, https://www.indiewire.com/news/breaking-news/bob-iger-ron-desantis-disney-world-fight-earnings-call-1234861277/

1. “Vivek Ramaswamy swipes at Ron DeSantis on Disney” POLITICO, 30 Apr. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/04/30/ramaswamy-swipes-desantis-on-disney-00094559

2. “‘They have not made a peep’: Disney cites Ron DeSantis’ Newsmax interview in revised lawsuit” Creative Loafing Tampa, 9 May. 2023, https://www.cltampa.com/news/they-have-not-made-a-peep-disney-cites-ron-desantis-newsmax-interview-in-revised-lawsuit-15606124

3. “Bob Iger Chides Ron DeSantis: Do You Want Our Biz, Taxes Or Not?; Slams Florida Governor’s “False Narrative” & Retaliation Over Don’t Say Gay Response” Yahoo Entertainment, 10 May. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/bob-iger-chides-ron-desantis-211900540.html

4. “Disney v DeSantis: what’s at stake for Florida as legal tug-of-war ramps up?” The Guardian, 9 May. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2023/may/09/disney-v-desantis-florida-lawsuit

5. “Disney revises DeSantis lawsuit – Tampa Bay Business Journal” The Business Journals, 9 May. 2023, https://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/news/2023/05/09/disney-revises-desantis-lawsuit.html

6. “Iger hammers Florida ‘retaliation’ on Disney’s earnings call” CNBC, 10 May. 2023, https://www.cnbc.com/2023/05/10/disney-iger-desantis-retaliation-florida.html

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