Disney and DeSantis allies end legal dispute over theme park control

Reuters People gather at the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida, the United States, July 30, 2022.Reuters

Allies of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Disney have reached a settlement agreement over how Walt Disney World will be governed in the future.

This comes after a judge ruled in January that it was legal for the state to make changes to the amusement park district’s government.

A feud between the two camps has lasted for almost two years.

The move was sparked by Disney’s criticism of a state law that restricted sexuality education in schools.

At a meeting Wednesday, Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board members approved the settlement agreement.

Jeff Vahle, chairman of Walt Disney World Resort, said in a statement that the company was pleased a settlement had been reached.

“This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunities in the State,” the Associated Press said. the news agency quoted Mr. Vahle as saying.

The two sides began feuding in 2022 after Disney, under pressure from its staff, criticized the Parental Rights in Education Act, a controversial state law that initially banned discussions and teaching in class on gender identity and sexual orientation in Florida public schools.

But in a separate legal regulation reached this month, it was agreed that these issues could be discussed in classrooms under the law as long as they are not part of formal teaching.

In response to Disney’s criticism, Mr. DeSantis passed a law that strips Disney of its autonomous authority – a power the company has held for more than 50 years.

The move gave more power to Mr. DeSantis, who now appoints members of a board that governs the park’s 25,000 acres.

Watch: The DeSantis vs. Disney fight explained in 90 seconds

But before the board changed hands, Disney supporters on the board signed agreements with the company transferring control of certain aspects of Disney World to the company – a move for which the district later sued Disney. The company also countersued.

Under the terms of Wednesday’s agreement, litigator Paul Huck said at the board meeting that the company acknowledged that ceding control to Disney before the board changed hands was “void”.

This city-sized theme park has been operated by Disney since 1971.

Correction of May 23:This article originally referred to the Parental Rights in Education Act as originally proposed and did not reflect a recent legal settlement clarifying the scope of the law. We have updated the article to include this additional context.

Lonnie Kimmons

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