DeSantis and Disney settle lawsuit sparked by Florida governor’s ‘Don’t Say

Allies of Gov. Ron DeSantis and Disney reached a settlement agreement Wednesday in a state court fight over how Walt Disney World is developed in the future following the takeover of the theme park resort’s government by the Florida governor.

In a meeting, the DeSantis-appointed members of the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District approved the settlement agreement, ending almost two years of litigation that was sparked by DeSantis’s takeover of the district from Disney supporters following the company’s opposition to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The 2022 law bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades and was championed by the Republican governor, who used Disney as a punching bag in speeches until he suspended his presidential campaign this year.

The district provides municipal services such as firefighting, planning and mosquito control, among other things, and was controlled by Disney supporters for most of the five decades it has existed.

The agreement came a day after the appointment of a new board member, replacing a DeSantis-appointed board chairman who was a Disney critic. Under the deal, covenants and a development agreement Disney supporters on the board made with the company just before the state takeover would be dropped and the new board agreed to operate under an earlier plan.

Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, said in a statement Wednesday that the company was pleased a settlement had been reached.

A person in sunglasses and a mask stands in front of picket signs that say Disney, stand with us against Don't Say Gay.
A demonstrator wearing a rainbow colour face mask takes part in a protest as Disney’s employees demonstrate against Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in March 2022. (Ringo Chiu/Reuters)

“This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunity in the state,” Vahle said.

DeSantis, who was in Orlando on Wednesday, said at a news conference that “we have been vindicated on all those actions.”

“I’m glad that they were able to do that settlement,” DeSantis said. “Those 11th hour covenants and restrictions were never going to be valid. We knew that.”

Both sides called ‘uncle’

As punishment for Disney’s opposition to the controversial law, DeSantis took over the governing district through legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and appointed a new board of supervisors.

Disney sued DeSantis and his appointees, claiming the company’s free speech rights were violated for speaking out against the legislation. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in January, but Disney appealed.

Before control of the district changed hands from Disney allies to DeSantis appointees early last year, the Disney supporters on its board signed agreements with Disney shifting control over design and construction at Disney World to the company. The new DeSantis…

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