Federal Judge Hands DeSantis a Crucial Win in His Battle Against Disney
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging legislation pushed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to dissolve a special district set up to benefit the Walt Disney Co.
The Republican made the move after Disney went on the offensive against him and the state legislature over the state’s Parents Rights in Education law, which forbids classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and limits sexual education after that to age-appropriate levels.
Statement from The Walt Disney Company on signing of Florida legislation: pic.twitter.com/UVI7Ko3aKS
— Walt Disney Company (@WaltDisneyCo) March 28, 2022
Legislation to dissolve Walt Disney World’s self-governing body was passed by the GOP-led state House on April 21 and signed by DeSantis a day later.
Florida created the Reedy Creek Improvement District in 1967 to enable Disney to build its flagship theme park.
The district essentially “has allowed Walt Disney World to govern itself,” according to WOFL-TV in Orlando.
But that will end by June 2023, when the law eliminating the 25,000-acre district in Orange and Osceola counties takes effect.
Three residents of those counties filed a complaint claiming the law threatens residents with higher taxes and violates a contractual obligation, the Orlando Sentinel reported. They also said it threatens free speech rights by retaliating against Disney for its activism in fighting the Parental Rights in Education law.
William Sanchez, a Miami lawyer who is also a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, filed the lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
A big concern of residents is Disney’s $1 billion in bond debt. They worry that if Reedy Creek is dissolved, they will have to shoulder that debt in their taxes.
There is a possibility that the bond debt could be transferred to residents of local counties, which could increase their property taxes by $2,200, WDW News Today reported.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga dismissed the lawsuit Tuesday, saying the federal court lacks standing over state issues and pointing to the tentative nature of the plaintiff’s claims.
Altonaga, who was nominated to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2003, ruled that the law would have no direct effect on the plaintiffs’ free speech rights.
She wrote that they “do not plausibly allege they have suffered any concrete injury as a result of the alleged violation of Disney’s First Amendment rights, and nothing in the Complaint shows Plaintiffs have a close relationship with Disney,” the Sentinel reported.
The new law “does not apply to them, they do not allege direct harm as a result of the challenged law, and they do not plausibly allege any credible threat of direct harm in the future,” the judge said.
Sanchez said he would file another complaint on behalf of the plaintiffs, Fox News reported.
“This is just the beginning of the battle, as we are attempting to achieve justice for Florida taxpayers,” the Democratic candidate said in a statement.
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