The Battle Between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Disney’s Reedy Creek

in Walt Disney World

Disney DeSantis

Over the past few months, The Walt Disney Company has been in a fierce battle with Walt Disney World’s home state of Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis.

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Credit: State of Florida Office of the Governor

The “Don’t Say Gay” Law and Disney’s Response

In late February 2022, the Florida legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis introduced the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, officially titled “The Parental Rights in Education Act.”

According to NPR, “The legislation prohibits any instruction about sexuality or gender between kindergarten and third grade, or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

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Credit: Disney

Outrage ensued when The Walt Disney Company’s political donations came into the spotlight. Public records show The Walt Disney Company has donated to every politician who sponsored the bill.

This led to protests from Cast Members and Disney fans alike, many of whom are members of the LGBTQIA+ community. On March 3, Disney released this statement:

NEW: Disney responds to protests and calls for action surrounding Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill, saying in part, “The biggest impact we can have in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce.” MORE: gma.abc/3sg3P8y

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community were frustrated with this statement, which doesn’t directly mention or condemn Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Pixar staff wrote The Walt Disney Company a letter asking the company to take a stronger stance against the bill.

dont say gay bill protest
Credit: savelgbt

Related: Abigail Disney Slams Disney, Says They Are “Complicit” With Anti-LGBTQ Legislation

One day later, The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek called Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to tell him specifically that Disney does not support the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which was later passed and signed into law. Disney promised to pause political donations in Florida due to the controversial bill after donating $4.8 million to Florida campaign funds in 2020.

Governor DeSantis Dissolves Reedy Creek Improvement District

disney-protest
Credit: @parkineer

Considered retaliation for The Walt Disney Company’s firm stance against the “Don’t Say Gay” law, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis introduced legislation to revoke a special privilege held by Walt Disney World since 1967.

The Florida State Legislature passed the legislation on April 20, officially dissolving Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, effective in 2023.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District was initially established in 1967 as a part of The Reedy Creek Improvement Act, allowing Walt Disney World to install and run its own government services surrounding its theme parks in Orlando. This prevented local taxpayers from paying for municipal services such as fire protection, water, roads, electrical power, etc.

disney-protest
Credit: uradio_jake

When the new law takes effect in 2023, taxpayers will take on those costs, and potentially the debt The Reedy Creek Improvement District has accrued over the years. According to Natasha Chen’s reporting, they have over $1 billion in debt:

According to the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the district has $1 billion in debt, and it is unclear what happens to those liabilities if the district is dissolved.

Insiders suggest Governor Ron DeSantis plans to introduce his own special appointed committee to operate the former Reedy Creek Improvement District when it dissolves in 2023.

Lawsuits Targeting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

Reedy Creek Fire Dept.
Credit: Reedy Creek Fire Department

Many Central Florida locals were outraged by DeSantis’s decision, wishing he had consulted them given the effect the dissolution of Reedy Creek could have on their lives. One publicly called DeSantis’s “misguided actions” an “abuse of power.”

William Sanchez, a Miami attorney, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of three Central Florida locals that claimed the state of Florida was violating a law called the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, as well as a contractual obligation with Reedy Creek’s bondholders and Disney’s First Amendment right to Free Speech without government consequence.

This lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga, who President George W. Bush appointed. Altonaga wrote that the three plaintiffs, Michael and Edward Foronda of Kissimmee and Vivian Gorsky of Orange County, “do not plausibly allege they have suffered any concrete injury as a result of the alleged violation of Disney’s First Amendment rights, and nothing in the Complaint shows Plaintiffs have a close relationship with Disney.”

reedy creek fire deparment helps monorail
Credit: TheCapsTV on YT

Sanchez didn’t stop there. In late May, he refiled the lawsuit in the state of Florida. The new suit alleges Governor DeSantis violated Florida’s 1967 Reedy Creek Statute, the Florida Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and the Florida Constitution, which Sanchez argues are stricter than the U.S. Constitution. In an interview with the Orlando Business JournalSanchez said:

“We truly believe we are on firm footing before the state court. The federal court judge viewed the case more through the prism of the First Amendment argument which is Disney’s to make. Although there is case law which also gives third parties rights to raise another party’s First Amendment rights, we chose to not appeal the federal judge’s decision. We believe our Florida taxpayer rights are going to receive greater protection in state court.” 

The new complaint accuses DeSantis of a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights violation and that the state infringed on the plantiffs’ right to be involved in proceedings that could affect them.

Reedy Creek Fire Department
Credit: Reedy Creek Fire Department Website

According to the Orlando Business Journal, the lawsuit requests explicitly the following:

The initial bill (SB 4-C) to be held unlawful and set aside; an injunction from the bill’s enforcement; provide the plaintiffs right to be involved in any proceedings regarding any tax assessments related to the dissolution of Reedy Creek; and more.

No hearings for the new lawsuit against Governor DeSantis have been scheduled as of June 3. Inside the Magic will report on any significant updates in the case.

reedy creek disney honor guard
Credit: Reedy Creek Honor Guard via Facebook

What do you think of the controversy between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek? Do you think Disney should have spoken out against the “Don’t Say Gay” law? 

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