The Walt Disney Co. is intensifying its legal battle against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican allies in the state legislature, accusing them of "weaponizing the power of government to punish private business."
This comes in response to recent legislative attempts to nullify the company's land-development agreements at Walt Disney World Resort.
On Monday, Disney amended its federal lawsuit against the governor and other officials to address House Bill 1604. The law, adopted last week, seeks to retroactively void a contract that Disney signed to secure planning approvals for the potential expansion of its theme parks and hotels in Florida. This move escalates a year-long standoff between Disney and Florida Republicans.
The company asserts in its amended filing that the legislation explicitly targets Disney as a repercussion for its opposition to the Parental Rights in Education bill. The bill, which prohibits classroom instruction on gender and sexuality issues in early elementary-school grades, was championed and signed into law by DeSantis last year.
Another recently approved measure provides the state with increased oversight over safety inspections for roller coasters and a monorail at Disney World. Disney's filing points to these measures as proof of DeSantis and his allies' alleged retaliatory actions.
"Governor DeSantis and his allies have no apparent intent to moderate their retaliatory campaign any time soon," Disney's lawyers wrote in the updated filing. The company referred to the new legislation as "precision-engineered to target Disney alone."
The dispute between DeSantis and Disney began last year, following Disney's public opposition to the sex-education bill, which critics dubbed "Don't Say, Gay."
Initially, DeSantis sought to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special tax district that includes most of the approximately 25,000 acres of land that house Walt Disney World. The community, established by Walt Disney in 1967, allowed Disney to build and expand the resort with minimal bureaucratic interference.
This year, DeSantis changed tactics, aiming to rename Reedy Creek and assume control over its five-member supervisory board, effectively giving the governor control over local government affairs at Walt Disney World.
In response, Disney swiftly locked in development approvals for the next 30 years before the new board could be seated. The DeSantis-appointed board voted to nullify these approvals last month, which spurred the federal lawsuit from Disney. The company claims that the state has violated the free speech and takings clauses of the U.S. Constitution by retaliating against the company.
The ongoing legal battle took another turn on May 1, when the board of the special tax district sued Disney in a Florida court, accusing the company of making a backroom deal to maintain its self-governing status at Disney World.
The governor has argued that Disney benefits from its special tax district and that the land-development agreement approved in February has legal flaws that make it easily voided.
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