Disney Versus DeSantis: A Timeline of the Florida Political Feud

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Disney Versus DeSantis: A Timeline of the Florida Political Feud
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(Bloomberg) -- A governor-appointed tourism board in Florida on Monday voted to sue the Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS ) Co., just days after the company sued Ron DeSantis on the grounds that he engaged in a political effort to hurt its business. It’s the latest escalation in a dispute that started more than a year ago.DeSantis’s criticism of Disney over its perceived liberal agenda, like backing LGBTQ+ rights and other social issues, has struck a chord with conservative voices. Yet he’s also faced criticism for taking things too far. Disney is one of Central Florida’s top taxpayers, contributing more than $1.1 billion in state and local taxes last year, and it’s one of the largest employers in the state with tens of thousands of workers.

Here's a timeline of the fight:March 8, 2022: Florida’s Senate passes legislation to limit instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten to third grade, enabling parents to more easily sue schools.March 9: Facing an internal uproar after not taking a stand on the controversial law, former Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek says he opposes the legislation. He tells investors he had called DeSantis that morning to "to express our disappointment and concern.”

March 28: DeSantis signs the Parental Rights in Education bill into law. Shortly after, Disney issues a statement saying the bill “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law.”April 19: DeSantis asks the state's legislature to terminate long-standing special privileges granted to Walt Disney World and its associated theme parks in the area. For over 50 years, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a local governing and special tax jurisdiction, gave Disney significant autonomy to manage daily operations. Within hours, bills were filed in the Florida House and Senate.April 22: DeSantis signs the law to strip Disney of its self-governance privileges starting June 1, 2023. “If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy.”May 16: DeSantis says that control of  Disney’s special government district would likely go to the state.Dec. 3: A key Florida legislator reveals that lawmakers are considering how they may restore some — but not all — of the privileges that were previously revoked by Disney from the state. Jan. 12, 2023: DeSantis says he expects to gain more control over Disney’s special district board. “The corporate kingdom has come to an end,” he says. “You cannot have a corporation controlling its own government. That is not good governance.”Feb. 6: Florida lawmakers file a new bill that would give DeSantis the power to appoint the five-member board of supervisors that runs Disney’s special district. The new rules prevent anyone with ties to a theme park in the past three years from serving on the board.

Feb. 8: In the final meeting before the DeSantis appointees take over, the board running the Disney district quietly signs contracts that would limit the powers of the new municipal authority that will govern its Florida theme parks for years. The changes went unnoticed until they were decried by the new board at the end of March.Feb. 10: Florida senators approve a bill that gives DeSantis control over the board. Under the new legislation, Reedy Creek would be renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.Feb. 27: DeSantis signs the bill, ending Disney’s special status and giving himself control over the board that oversees Disney’s theme parks municipal services.March 29: The newly appointed board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District says they don't have much ability to govern because of the changes introduced by the now-defunct Reedy Creek board.

April 3: At Disney’s annual meeting, Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger comes out swinging at DeSantis saying his policies for the theme-park giant have been “not just anti-Florida, but anti-business.” Iger adds that “a company has a right to freedom of speech just like individuals do.”April 17: DeSantis vows to undo the changes Disney made and further threatens the company, suggesting the state might impose taxes on nearby hotels, add tolls to roads leading to Disney properties and possibly build a prison near the company’s theme parks. “Who knows? I just think the possibilities are endless.” 

April 26: Disney sues DeSantis, alleging he’s threatening billions of dollars in business as retaliation for the company speaking against his policies. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Tallahassee. 

May 1: The oversight district board voted unanimously to sue Disney in a special meeting. The group said they would sue Disney in Florida’s state court.

(Updates first and last paragraph with details on plans by the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District to counter-sue Disney.)

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© Bloomberg. Bob Chapek  Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

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