DeSantis signs bill in effort to nullify controversial Disney agreements

 May 7, 2023

In his ongoing battle with the Walt Disney Company, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill this week designed to upend controversial eleventh-hour agreements entered into with the board that once oversaw the self-governing district the entertainment giant once enjoyed, as CBS News reports.

Those agreements were reached just before the so-called Reedy Creek Development District was renamed and reconstituted with members selected by DeSantis, and as such, the governor sought to have them nullified, which the aforementioned legislation aims to do.

Ongoing feud intensifies

Disputes between Disney and DeSantis boiled over last year when the company took a stand against the Republican-backed Parental Rights in Education law prohibiting classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in K-3 classrooms.

Vowing to prevent a corporate enterprise such as Disney from exerting outsized influence over state law, DeSantis signed into law a measure that eliminated the quasi-autonomous governing status the company had been granted in and around its Orlando properties, which was long known as the Reedy Creek District and gave him the authority to appoint a new board, subject to legislative confirmation.

Prior to that board transition, however, Disney quietly pursued with the previous board a 30-year development agreement and restrictive covenants that rendered future supervisors on unable to exercise their supposed authority in regulating the company's growth, as the Orlando Sentinel noted.

That move, unsurprisingly, further stoked the existing animosity between DeSantis and Disney, with the governor stating, “These collusive and self-dealing arrangements aim to nullify the recently passed legislation, undercut Florida's legislative process and defy the will of Floridians” and suggesting that the deals themselves had “serious legal infirmities” and could be unenforceable.

DeSantis signs bill

On Friday, DeSantis signed SB 1604, which seeks to nullify the agreements reached with the prior Reedy Creed board, explaining why he felt such action was necessary, according to CBS News.

“The reason why the Legislature had to act was not because of anything we did,” DeSantis began.

The governor continued, “It was basically borne out of Disney's arrogance, that they would be able to subcontract around the duly enacted laws of the state of Florida. That's wrong.”

Pursuant to the new law, DeSantis appointees to what is now called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board would gain the authority to reconsider the aforementioned back-door agreements.

Litigation underway

In addition to the legislative attempt to undo the agreements with Disney, the Oversight District has also opted to file a lawsuit of its own to have them nullified, as NBC News notes.

That decision is not surprising, given the new board's recent decision to retain legal counsel to review the situation and its pledge to fight back against the strategy.

“We're going to have to deal with it and correct it. It's a subversion of the will of the voters and the legislature and the governor,” said Brian August Jr., one of the new supervisors. “It completely circumvents the authority of this board to govern.”

With Disney also having recently sued DeSantis and other state officials alleging that they have engaged in a “campaign of government retaliation” against the company and violating its First Amendment rights, it appears that this increasingly bitter fight is nowhere near its conclusion.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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