Members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District authorised a lawsuit in state court in the Orlando area and also agreed to defend the federal lawsuit Disney filed last week in Tallahassee.
“We have no choice but to respond,” Martin Garcia, chairman of the district’s board of supervisor, said in a meeting Monday. “This district will seek justice in state court here in central Florida where it and Disney reside and do business.”
The vote is the latest twist in a political drama that has played out since Disney criticised DeSantis-backed legislation last year that limited what schools can teach about gender and sexuality. DeSantis appointed the district’s board to replace another one that had been in place for decades and allowed Disney to govern itself.
Disney sued after the oversight district voted to halt contracts that would allow the company, which employs 75,000 people in Florida, to expand its Orlando complex. The company’s lawsuit complained the governor’s actions were retaliatory, anti-business and unconstitutional.
DeSantis, a Republican and potential 2024 presidential candidate, sought to seize control of the local governing jurisdiction set up in 1967 that gave Disney great autonomy to manage to day-to-day operations of Disney World and its other Central Florida theme parks. But Disney outmanoeuvered the governor by quietly pushing through changes that weakened the municipal authority chosen by DeSantis.
Disney is one of the largest taxpayers in central Florida, contributing more than $1.1-billion in state and local taxes last year. Disney is also one of the largest employers in the state. The company emphasised its economic importance to Florida in its suit.
The case is Walt Disney Parks and Resorts v DeSantis, 23-cv-00163, US District Court, Northern District of Florida (Tallahassee).