News (USA)

Disney settles two-year legal battle with Florida after drama fueled by Don’t Say Gay law

Gov. Ron DeSantis gives brief remarks at the end of the 2024 Florida Legislative Session on Friday, March 8, 2024.
Gov. Ron DeSantis gives brief remarks at the end of the 2024 Florida Legislative Session on Friday, March 8, 2024. Photo: Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat / USA TODAY NETWORK

A two-year legal battle between Disney and the state of Florida has concluded with a settlement agreement between the entertainment company and the Gov. Ron DeSantis-appointed board of the company’s special tax district.

The feud began when Disney spoke out against DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. The governor publicly expressed his decision to punish the company for its opposition by ending its decades-old special zoning agreement and stripping Disney of its control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District surrounding Walt Disney World. Disney then pulled a fast one on DeSantis and reached a last-minute agreement with the previous board to allow the company to maintain much of its autonomy.

The settlement acknowledges that plans created by the previous board are not valid, an agreement Walt Disney World Resort president Jeff Vahle said he is happy with.

“This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunity in the state,” Vahle said in a statement.

DeSantis also voiced approval of the settlement at a recent press conference, reportedly saying he’s “glad” an agreement has been reached and that he believes his actions have been “vindicated.”

“A year ago people were trying to act like all these legal maneuvers were all going to succeed,” he said, “and the reality is here we are a year later, not one of them has succeeded.”

Former Florida congressman David Jolly – who served as a Republican but is now an independent – told Reuters he thinks DeSantis lost his luster for battling Disney after dropping out of the 2024 presidential race. “It made sense for his politics,” Jolly said. “It never made sense for Florida’s economy or for the long-term interests of the state.”

Disney also reportedly agreed to place its federal lawsuit against DeSantis on hold while the company and the board work together on a new development plan. The federal suit is fueled by Disney’s accusations that DeSantis ran a relentless campaign of retaliation against Disney, stripping the company of its autonomy over its special tax district because it exercised its First Amendment right to free speech in opposing the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

A judge threw out the case in January but Disney has filed an appeal. Disney has also agreed to “put an end to all litigation pending in state court in Florida,” Vahle explained.

Disney’s agreement to settle came after two board members with a particularly contentious relationship with the company resigned, according to the New York Times. Martin Garcia and Glen Gilzean both left their roles this month.

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