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DeSantis signs law terminating Disney development deals

DeSantis signs law terminating Disney development deals

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference in the Cabinet Room at the end of the 2023 legislative session in Florida on Friday, May 5, 2023.

Alicia Devine | Tallahassee Democrat via AP

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Friday effectively nullifying the development agreements Disney just before the governor selected a new board of directors to oversee the company’s Orlando parks.

The development deals are at the center of the latest battle in a year-long war between Disney, one of Florida’s largest employers, and DeSantis, a Republican likely gearing up for a 2024 presidential campaign.

The governor’s office confirmed the signing of the bill in a press release that offered no further information or comments about the legislation.

The bill, passed by the state’s Republican-majority legislature just a day earlier, follows a vote by DeSantis board members to void the deals, claiming they were unlawfully struck. According to Disney, the contracts were drawn up to secure long-term development plans amid escalating tensions with DeSantis and its allies.

Members of both parties, including Trump, have criticized DeSantis’ fight with Disney.

“This feud between DeSantis and Disney is insane,” Linda Stewart, a Democrat representing Florida’s 13th Senate district, told CNBC. “Every day it seems they want to try other ways to make things harder for Disney, but all they do is cost taxpayers money to hire lawyers to defend what they do. “

Stewart voted against the recent legislation.

Disney sued DeSantis and the board members last week over a campaign of political retaliation led by the governor. The board countered days later.

Disney declined to comment.

The feud began more than a year ago after Disney denounced a Republican-backed Florida law that restricted classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender ideology and was branded by critics “Don’t Say Gay.”

Shortly thereafter, DeSantis and his allies moved to disband the special tax district that had allowed Walt Disney World to essentially self-govern its own operations since the 1960s.

The 25,000-acre area formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District was ultimately kept intact — but it was given a new name, and its five-member board of directors was replaced with numbers chosen by DeSantis.

In March, the new board accused Disney of making 11 hour deals that undermined its power. Disney says its contacts have been made publicly and that they do not undermine the board’s oversight of the district’s activities.

The company’s state civil lawsuit asks the court to “prevent the state of Florida from arming the government’s power to punish private corporations.”

DeSantis signed legislation voiding Disney’s businesses on the last day of the 2023 Florida legislative session. The governor, who was resoundingly re-elected in November’s midterm elections, is seen as former President Donald Trump’s potential greatest rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

The Legislature, which has Republican supermajorities in both chambers, has been churning out bills that have helped implement DeSantis’ wide-ranging conservative agenda — with an emphasis on divisive cultural issues that might resonate in a Republican primary race.

DeSantis has continued his attacks on Disney, even as the protracted battle has led some Republicans to question his strategy.

In addition to canceling the development agreements, the Florida legislature passed a measure that would require the state transportation agency to conduct inspections of the Walt Disney World monorails. Stewart said Disney hasn’t had any major safety issues with its monorail system since 2009, when an operator was killed after two of the vehicles collided. She questioned the timing of the new measure.

“It’s so obvious that it’s about retribution,” Stewart said.

Earlier this month, the state board of education approved an amendment to the classroom bill that started the feud with Disney.

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