Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) ongoing legal battle with Disney is set to cost the state’s taxpayers $1,300 per hour in addition to the millions it has already cost to defend his extreme agenda in court.
According to Business Insider, the DeSantis administration has contracted two outside law firms to pursue a legal challenge to a maneuver on the part of the entertainment giant to strip the governor’s hand-picked Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board of much of its power.
Last month, DeSantis signed a bill ending The Walt Disney Company’s decades-old special zoning agreement, stripping the company of its control over the 39-square mile Reedy Creek Improvement District surrounding Walt Disney World. DeSantis renamed the district and appointed five allies to its board.
The move was seen as retaliation for Disney’s opposition to DeSantis’s anti-LGBTQ+ “Parental Rights in Education” law. Commonly known as “Don’t Say Gay,” the legislation bans discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K–3 and restricts them in higher grades, using language that LGBTQ+ activists say effectively bans mentioning LGBTQ+ people in the classroom.
But this week, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board began their tenure by discovering that the previous board struck a last-minute agreement with Disney that allows the company to maintain much of its autonomy and renders the new board largely powerless.
NPR reports that DeSantis’s office intends to fight the agreement. “The Executive Office of the Governor is aware of Disney’s last-ditch efforts to execute contracts just before ratifying the new law,” DeSantis communications director Taryn Fenske said in a statement. “An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render contracts void as a matter of law.”
That’s going to cost Florida taxpayers. According letters included in the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board’s Wednesday agenda, two outside law firms, Cooper & Kirk and Lawson, “will represent the District regarding certain constitutional and contract matters and potential legal challenges.” Cooper & Kirk will reportedly bill the Florida government $795 per hour, while Lawson will bill $495 per hour, in addition to hundreds of dollars for work done by legal assistants and paralegals.
The DeSantis administration has already spent millions fighting legal challenges to the governor’s culture war agenda. Last June, The Orlando Sentinel reported that the state’s legal bills had totaled at least $5.8 million in just five cases.
At the time, Florida state Sen. Tina Polsky (D) blasted the administration for spending taxpayer dollars to defend legally dubious laws designed to boost DeSantis’ political profile ahead of an anticipated presidential bid.
“Fiscally conservative Republicans must be thrilled with these expenses,” Polsky said. “Where are your values? What happens with fiscal conservatism when you purposely pass bills that are unconstitutional and you know will be challenged in courts?”