DeSantis’ tourism district agrees to narrow Disney federal lawsuit

Allie Goulding/Tampa Bay Times/TNS

ORLANDO, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ tourism oversight district agreed Thursday to narrow Disney’s federal lawsuit to just the issue of free speech.

Disney wants to focus on what its lawyers call “a retaliatory weaponization of government in violation of Disney’s First Amendment rights,” leaving other matters dealing with development agreements and contracts to be resolved in state court.

On Sept. 1, federal Judge Allen Winsor rejected Disney’s motion to narrow the lawsuit because of a procedural rule requiring it to confer with the state’s lawyers.

In a statement Thursday, officials with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District said they accepted Disney’s proposal.

“Disney’s latest legal move puts them in line with the position of what the district has been advocating for months now: that these matters should be decided in state court,” said Alexei Woltornist, a spokesman for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. “We hope this helps expedite justice for the people of Florida.”

The state lawsuit deals with development agreements approved ahead of a state takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which is now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

Those deals approved by previous Disney-friendly board members grant the corporation control over growth and development in Central Florida. The new DeSantis-appointed tourism board argues in its lawsuit in state court the agreements are null and void because of procedural missteps.

In a statement Thursday, Disney vowed to fight to uphold those agreements.

“We will continue to fight vigorously to defend these contracts, because these agreements will determine whether or not Disney can invest billions of dollars and generate thousands of new jobs in Florida,” the unsigned Disney statement read.

DeSantis’ feud with Disney started last year after the entertainment giant opposed legislation known by critics as the “don’t say gay” bill. That legislation limited classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.