Disney v. DeSantis: As the legal tug-of-war intensifies, what's at stake in Florida? (2023)

bigucy Mends is pretty nervous about going on vacation to Disneyland in Central Florida this spring. The 46-year-old novelist reads a bill approved by the governor at her home in Elkridge, Marylandron desantisBefore 2022, discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation of children in kindergarten up to and including third grade is prohibited in elementary school classes.

Mends was even more alarmed by a flurry of bills introduced during the state legislature's current session that would expand the ban to include high school students and bar transgender people from changing their birth certificates and receiving transition-related care, such as hormone therapy and puberty arrest for minors. “They demonize trans people, which is terrible,” she said.

Under pressure from employees, The Walt Disney Company speaks out against so-calleddon't say gay lawlast year. An enraged DeSantis retaliated, denouncing Disney as "the Magic Kingdom that awakened corporatism," and signed a bill in February that sought to control the self-governing district near Orlando that has been home to Disney World since it opened in 1971. The company has been in operation.

Regardless, Manz continued with his Disney World vacation plans. Showing solidarity with the company is an important factor. "Spending money on Disney is like contributing to the fight against DeSantis," Menz said. "They won't be intimidated by the fascists, and I'm all for that."

The ongoing dispute between DeSantis and his state's second-largest employer has intensified in recent days. disney suedFloridaThe governor was in Tallahassee federal court in late April to allegedly punish businesses for exercising their First Amendment free speech rights, criticizing DeSantis' Educational Parents Rights Act last year. The lawsuit seeks to overturn the governor's recent takeover of Disney's autonomous region after adding allies to its five-member board.

The board, in turn, filed its own lawsuit in Orlando state court aimed at restoring its control over design and construction decisions for the Disney World district, despite a series of last-minute decisions by the former pro-corporate board that would strengthen Disney's relatives. State government autonomy.

DeSantis is widely expected to formally announce in the coming weeks whether he will seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, with the final outcome of the legal tug-of-war between DeSantis and Disney having ramifications for the entire Sunshine State and territory. Profound effects especially on the Central Florida economy. The company pays more than $1 billion a year in state taxes, much of which comes from the 25,000-acre (10,000-hectare) Disney World theme park, which employs an estimated 65,000 people.

Disney v. DeSantis: As the legal tug-of-war intensifies, what's at stake in Florida? (1)

A potential casualty may have arrived. Disney has planned to move about 2,000 high-paying creative jobs from California to a new regional operations center southeast of Orlando as early as this year thanks to $578 million in tax breaks approved during DeSantis' first term. According to reports, this major personnel change has been put on hold for now with no concrete timeline.

The Guardian's request for interviews with Disney executives or spokespeople went unanswered. The governor's press secretary denied a similar request, citing what he called the newspaper's "bias and agenda [that] come before news or truth."

But DeSantis has been outspoken about the company since then-Disney CEO Robert Chapek publicly expressed his "disappointment" over the passage of the 2022 "Don't Say Gay" bill. In his recent book, "The Courage to Liberty: Florida, " in "A Blueprint for American Renewal," the governor blasted Disney for what he called "support for instilling conscious gender identity politics in young school children," boasting of a stint in DeSantis' "Things got worse for Disney" during the administration.

This talk worries many in Central Florida. First, such remarks are inconsistent with the Republican Party's traditional pro-business policies and its staunch opposition to excessive government intervention.

"He's clearly evolved from a Tea Party, small government, traditional foundation type of guy to a more Trumpist, anti-Awakening leader," said Congressman Darren Soto, a Democrat whose Ninth District includes much of Disney World. "It's a personal vendetta and he's attacked anyone who gets in his way and it's terrible for the economy of Central Florida."

Some prominent figures in the region's hospitality industry see the governor's various reforms to further limit abortion rights, eliminate the African American Affairs test for AP high school students and create a new law enforcement agency to investigate rare cases of voter fraud. It is wrong.

"He needs to focus on labor shortages and insurance issues, but DeSantis is much busier with his presidential campaign," said hotelier Jan Gautam, whose commercial property insurance premiums have risen an estimated 300 percent in the past two years. By ignoring these problems, his approach must change."

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One of the key issues in the showdown with the governor was Disney's unique autonomy as a private corporation, whose charter its executives negotiated with local officials in 1967 was, by any standards, a sweetheart deal. It created the Reedy Creek Improvement District to make Disney World function as a quasi-county government, responsible for its own roads, building services, building permits, fire department and garbage collection services.

According to Richard Ferguson, professor of political science and author of Marrying a Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando, published in 2001, The company sometimes behaves like a "state within a state." Disney's lawyers have cited the original charter to exempt the company from paying certain fees and taxes enacted by state and local governments during that period. A good example is a tax Orange County officials assessed in the 1990s to help pay for its sheriff's department budget,The company argues that doesn't apply to Disney because the charter shields it "permanently" from paying the taxes it passed after 1967.

A similar situation applies to the impact fees Orange County enacted when it entered a period of explosive growth in the 1980s to partially pay for the costs of building new highways and libraries, as well as building new police and fire departments. "They were given too much power that was not given to competitors that arrived later like the Universal Orlando theme park," Foglesong said. "It strikes me as unfair."

But the academic parted ways with DeSantis as the governor sought to end the corporation's privileged status and place its operations under greater state control. "Disney's power needs to be addressed, but he's attacking the company for all the wrong reasons," he said. "Looking at DeSantis' statement, it's clear that he's punishing Disney for talking back to him and challenging him about what the public schools can teach. Regarding the governor's claims of violating Disney's rights to the first amendment, its case is correct as far as it is concerned."

Even some of the governor's supporters believe DeSantis may have overstepped the accepted limits of power in Disney's case. While waiting for a shuttle bus outside the Swan Hotel at Walt Disney World, a 60-year-old Oklahoma City resident expressed concern Thursday morning about DeSantis' clumsy strategy.

"I support him in general and I understand where he's coming from, but he's probably a little over the top on this one," said James, a Florida regular who is active in Republican circles in his hometown but declined to give his last name. "It seems a little vindictive to me — if I were a local, I'd care about Disney World's 65,000 employees and all the associated businesses and the jobs they represent."

  • This article was revised on May 9, 2023 to correct the year Disney World opened. That was 1971, not 1972.

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