ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ board appointees are seeking communications between Disney and local media, as well as documents related to the company’s position on Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, as part of a state court fight over control of the district that governs Walt Disney World.
The request for documents and communications was made Thursday by the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, now controlled by DeSantis appointees. It sued Disney this year over control of the private government which regulates design and construction and provides municipal services such as mosquito control and road repairs at the Florida theme park resort.
The district wants all Disney communications about DeSantis, as well as communications dealing with laws passed by the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature that switched control of the district from Disney supporters to the governors’ appointees and nullified deals the company made with the Disney-controlled district before the state takeover.
The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, formerly called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, was controlled by Disney allies for more than five decades until it was taken over by DeSantis appointees earlier this year. The takeover of the district came after Disney publicly opposed a state law banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. The law, dubbed by opponents as “Don’t Say Gay,” was championed by DeSantis, who currently is running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
Before control of the district changed hands from Disney allies to DeSantis appointees, 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 appointees claimed the “eleventh-hour deals” neutered their powers, and the district sued the company in state court to have the contracts voided.
Disney has filed counterclaims which include asking the state court to declare the agreements valid and enforceable.
Attorneys for the governing district on Thursday also said that they planned to take depositions of Disney attorneys, planners and lobbyists. Among the topics they intend to cover is how supervisors to the old district board were selected and what kind of land transactions took place between them, the court papers said.
Disney and DeSantis and his allies also are battling in federal court, where the company has sued DeSantis, claiming the governor violated its free speech rights by punishing it for expressing opposition to the law. DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District have asked a federal judge to throw out Disney’s First Amendment lawsuit, calling it meritless. A hearing is scheduled for next month in Tallahassee.
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