A Florida tourism board aligned with Governor Ron DeSantis in his battle against Disney vowed to counter-sue the entertainment giant after it went to court claiming DeSantis and the board violated its First Amendment rights by invalidating a longstanding deal that gave it special authority over its Sunshine State theme parks.
The new legal broadside is just the latest in a running dispute DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board is embroiled in with Disney. DeSantis has criticized Disney over its woke policies and targeted the company’s special status in Florida, which includes tax breaks and autonomy from regulation.
“Disney sued us, we have no choice now but to respond,” Martin Garcia, chair of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, said Monday, according to Politico. “The district will seek justice in state court here in central Florida where both it and Disney reside and do business.”
Last week, the newly reorganized oversight board voted to nullify the last-minute deals that the previous Disney-appointed board made ceding power to Disney. Disney responded soon after by filing a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida claiming it was the victim of a “targeted campaign of government retaliation.”
Disney claims in its lawsuit that the oversight board’s move “now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region and violates its constitutional rights.”
DeSantis Communications Director Taryn Fenske responded to Disney’s lawsuit in a statement.
“We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state,” Fenske said. “This lawsuit is yet another unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.”
The former board signed an agreement to transfer its power to the company on February 8 and the agreement was recorded with the Orange County Comptroller on February 9 — the same day that the Florida House passed legislation that renamed the Reedy Creek Improvement District to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and removed Disney’s self-appointed board and replaced it with a board appointed by the governor.
“They [Disney] are not superior to the laws that are enacted by the state of Florida,” DeSantis said during a press conference last week. “They thought they could create a development agreement that would render everything we did null and void. That’s not going to work, that’s not going to fly.”
Ryan Saavedra contributed to this article.