Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state legislature will file a bill that aims to undo steps the Walt Disney Co. took to undermine the authority of a new state-appointed oversight board, intensifying the battle between a likely presidential contender and one of the state's largest employers.
DeSantis announced the bill at a news conference at Lake Buena Vista on Monday.
DeSantis said the bill would "formally nullify" a development agreement Disney struck with outgoing members of the oversight board that ties the hands of DeSantis' appointees.
"To do an end-run around the people of Florida shows how arrogant they are," DeSantis told the host of WFLA's "Good Morning Orlando" before Monday's announcement.
The Florida governor began targeting Disney a year ago, after Disney's then-Chief Executive Bob Chapek spoke out against a bill limiting discussion of sexuality and gender identity in Florida's elementary school classrooms – the Parental Rights in Education Act.
He and the Florida legislature have been working to eliminate the virtual autonomy the company enjoyed over Walt Disney World for more than century.
Florida lawmakers passed a bill in February giving DeSantis effective control over a board that oversees municipal services and development in a special district in central Florida that encompasses Walt Disney World resort.
Current Disney CEO Bob Iger called the move a retaliation, "anti-business" and "anti-Florida."
Before the takeover by DeSantis appointees, Disney pushed through changes to the special tax district agreement that limit the board's action for decades.
"What they tried to do is an embarrassment," a senior administration source told the New York Post. "The narrative the left is spinning is that Gov. DeSantis was outmaneuvered. But this is far from over, and he's going to have the last laugh."
Disney "got used to doing whatever they wanted for far too long," one source said. "Not this time." The source added DeSantis is "not afraid of a fight on this."
But Disney appeared to strike back when, just before stepping down, members of the previous board controlled by the corporate giant passed covenants that transferred developmental power to the company, leaving DeSantis' new body largely without real power, including blocking the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District from using the name "Disney" or the likenesses of its famed characters without company permission.
However, senior DeSantis administration officials said Disney broke the law by intentionally limiting legally required public notices of the new deal to shield it from scrutiny and make it easier to pass.
"The Florida Legislature and Gov. DeSantis worked to put Disney on an even playing field," said communications chief Taryn Fenske. "Disney got caught red-handed attempting to undermine Florida's duly enacted legislation."
Disney denied the charges, saying the changes complied with Florida's public meeting laws, the Post reported.
"All agreements signed between Disney and the district were appropriate and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida's Government in the Sunshine law," Disney said in a recent statement.
An attorney for the newly constituted Central Florida Tourism Oversight District last month described what he called the "shocking" revelation the agreement had been reached three weeks before DeSantis signed legislation granting the state authority over the district.
"I've never seen anything like this," attorney Daniel Langley said March 29. "The timing, circumstances and terms of the (development agreement) showed that the intent ... was to circumvent the enabling act of this district and to bind the hands of this board and future boards."
The pact cements a 10-year comprehensive plan, adopted July 15, 2022, that serves as a blueprint to guide future development. It gives Disney the option to add a fifth major theme park, two minor parks, 1 million square feet of retail space, and some 14,000 hotel rooms.
It also ensures future boards would honor a commitment to $527 million in planned capital improvements to support Walt Disney World's growth over the next decade.
The agreement would remain in force until 21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England, a legal provision used in contracts to extend a right in perpetuity.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
Brian Freeman ✉
Brian Freeman, a Newsmax writer based in Israel, has more than three decades writing and editing about culture and politics for newspapers, online and television.
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