Central Florida residents are suing Florida after lawmakers in April voted to strip Walt Disney World of its self-governance status.
The federal lawsuit, filed Tuesday, asserts the bill is unconstitutional and will significantly “injure” nearby taxpayers, who may inherit upwards of $1 billion in debt. It also alleges the repeal is punitive and aims to punish Disney’s opposition to the Parental Rights in Education bill.
The bill — signed in March — bans instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity” in grades kindergarten through third. The plaintiffs include Orange County resident Vivian Gorsky and Edward and Michael Foronda of Orange County. Miami lawyer and U.S. Senate candidate William Sanchez is representing the trio, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
Critics, including Disney, referred to the legislation as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — a term supporters of the law decry as inaccurate.
“It is without question that defendant Governor DeSantis intended to punish Disney for a 1st Amendment protected ground of free speech,” the lawsuit says. “Defendant’s violation of Disney’s 1st Amendment rights, directly resulted in a violation of plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment rights to due process of law.”
Reedy Creek — Disney’s self-governing body — provides utilities and public services across more than 25,000 acres of Orange and Osceola counties. If dissolved, local governments would absorb Reedy Creek’s assets, debts and responsibilities, such as emergency medical service.
“Stripping Disney of this special district designation will move these major regulatory burdens unto the county, thereby increasing the Plaintiff’s taxes, and will cause significant injury to plaintiffs,” the complaint states.
Reedy Creek will dissolve in June 2023 unless lawmakers revisit the issue. Five other special districts, all of which were created by lawmakers prior to 1968, were also nixed.
Meanwhile, Disney — Florida’s largest employer — remains mum after the high-profile dustup. The Washington Post reports Disney lawyers and lobbyists are working off stage to smooth over relations with the state.
The lawsuit’s plaintiffs live in the surrounding counties and are asking the judge to block the repeal, according to the lawsuit.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and GOP legislative leaders dispute assertions alleging the repeal is punitive. DeSantis also disputes the repeal will burden taxpayers.