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Disney expands lawsuit to include new DeSantis-backed legislation


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The Walt Disney Co. on Monday expanded its lawsuit alleging retaliation by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to include new regulations passed by the state’s legislature that allow officials to nullify development agreements brokered by the entertainment giant.

DeSantis (R), who is weighing a presidential run, signed legislation Friday giving the special board that oversees government services in and around the Walt Disney World Resort the authority to void existing contracts.

The law disallows any Florida special district from complying with a development agreement executed within three months of any separate law modifying how board members are selected.

Disney, in an amended legal complaint, said the legislation signed Friday was drafted to solely target its development.

“Governor DeSantis and his allies have no apparent intent to moderate their retaliatory campaign any time soon,” Disney’s complaint reads.

Disney’s lawsuit, originally filed in late April, alleged that the governor was attempting to punish the company for its opposition to the Parental Rights in Education Act, which prohibits lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools through the third grade.

A timeline of the DeSantis-Disney feud

After Disney denounced the legislation — which critics dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill — the Florida legislature at DeSantis’s urging passed a measure to seize control of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, formerly called the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The 39-square-mile jurisdiction that includes Disney World has special privileges that allow it to maintain its own utilities, infrastructure and public safety services and impose its own taxes.

DeSantis and the state legislature abolished that district — whose commissioners were senior Disney executives — and established a new one with commissioners appointed by the governor.

But before the outgoing commission was dissolved, officials signed a new contract with Disney that restricts the new board’s ability to regulate the region. It also included a clause that extends the agreement until 21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III of England.

In the amended complaint, Disney — which is Florida’s largest employer and reported $82.7 billion in 2022 revenue — invoked statements DeSantis made to reporters on Friday about new law.

“This all started, of course, with our parents’ rights bill,” the governor said.

DeSantis, who has still yet to officially declare his candidacy for the 2024 presidential race, trails former president Donald Trump for the Republican nomination by 29.1 percentage points, according to a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll.

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