On Wednesday, Walt Disney Co. DIS.Nsued Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, requesting that a federal court invalidate state attempts to assert more control over the Walt Disney World theme parks.
The Parental Rights in Education Act, sometimes known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law and sponsored by DeSantis in Florida, limits discussion of sexuality and gender issues in the classroom for younger pupils. At the time, Bob Chapek, then-CEO of Disney, criticised the initiative. In response, DeSantis urged the legislature to eliminate a special district that effectively granted Disney complete control over the construction of its theme parks in central Florida.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District was established in 1967 by the Florida State Legislature to encourage the construction of Walt Disney World on a 38.5-square-mile plot of land. The district Disney paid taxes to offered municipal services and exempted it from some rules.
DeSantis requested that the Reedy Creek Improvement District be disbanded in April 2022, and the Republican-controlled legislature did so in a special session. In February 2023, Florida lawmakers took up the matter again, depriving Disney of its unique status as a self-governing entity and giving DeSantis the power to create a new tourist board to oversee the region.
Disney pushed through revisions to the special tax district agreement in February 2023 that limit the board’s ability to act for decades before the takeover by DeSantis appointees. DeSantis vowed to thwart those initiatives.
In a mid-April press conference, DeSantis suggested the recently established tourist board could increase inspections of Disney attractions, add more toll roads, or pursue other local development opportunities. He even floated the notion of locating a state prison in the area. Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, referred to the governor’s action as “anti-business” and “anti-Florida.”
Disney filed a lawsuit against DeSantis and the members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board he recently appointed in a federal court in Tallahassee, alleging that the state’s actions violated the terms of its contract with the company and that DeSantis is trying to limit its First Amendment rights. The business is requesting that Florida’s legislative action be ruled unconstitutional by the court.
In a Reuters/Ipsos poll from April, 44% of Republican participants indicated they had a more positive opinion of DeSantis as a result of the conflict with Disney. But 73% of respondents, including 82% of Democrats and 63% of Republicans, said they were less likely to endorse a political candidate that supports legislation that targets businesses for their political or cultural beliefs.