Fred: Florida’s feud with Disney entered a new phase on Friday, Governor Ron DeSantis signing a new law that will dismantle the self-governing status the Disney World resort has enjoyed for the last 55 years. And it comes after Disney criticized a Florida law aimed at preventing schools from teaching young children about sexual orientation or gender identity, dubbed by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Well, back with us again, constitutional law attorney Page Pate. Even though I said goodbye to you, I didn’t really mean it. It was a very short goodbye. Hello again. All right so…
Page: Hello. I didn’t wanna leave, [inaudible 00.00.36].
Fred: All right. Well, this is a really important topic, you know. Because from the outside looking in, I mean, the State Government of Florida is punishing Disney for taking a stance, verbalizing itself against this new law. So, would that ultimately be a violation of their First Amendment to speak as they wanted?
Page: I think so, Fred. I mean, we have to start with the proposition that a company, just like a person, has the right to freedom of speech. The First Amendment protects their ability to make statements about things they believe in, things they’re against. They absolutely have that protection. The only question here is, was this particular action to strip away their authority in the Middle Florida Orlando area, take away their ability to govern themselves, was that in retaliation for them speaking out about this “Don’t Say Gay” bill?
Fred: Well, does it seem like it is retaliation?
Page: Yes, absolutely. I mean, you look at the statements that the Governor has made, you look at some of the social media messages members of the state legislature have put out there, I think it is clear not just to punish Disney, but to send a message to other companies, not to take the same sort of position. So, I don’t think that’s a good argument. But what we have seen already is some members of the legislature saying, “Well, now wait a minute. It wasn’t just Disney. There were other tax districts involved. And maybe Disney should not have had this privilege to begin with.” But that doesn’t matter under the constitutional analysis. They had it, now they don’t. And it’s because of what they said.
Fred: Yeah, but it’s interesting because now it’s being analyzed in lots of different ways. I mean, it may be a privilege, you know, one point of view, but then we just spoke with, you know, the tax commissioner who says ultimately Disney may be saving. They may be saving $160 million, you know, in taxes that they would have paid with that kind of special privilege. So, are they really being punished because now Florida residents are gonna have to pay that cost? So, if Disney wants to push forward on this and challenge the state legislature, challenge this law, what kind of recourse does it have to potentially strike down the law?
Page: Well, Fred, they’d need to go to court. They would file a lawsuit. They would allege a violation of their constitutional rights by the State of Florida. And they would say, “They acted in retaliation by taking away this privilege we had. Whether we should have had it to begin with or not is not the issue for the constitutional analysis. We had it, they took it away.” So, that would go to a federal judge in Florida. But you’re right. They may not wanna do that. I mean, it looks like they’re gonna be able to unload a bunch of debt on the taxpayers of Florida. So, there may be political or business reasons not to even challenge the decision. We’ll see.
Fred: Oh boy. So, unlike most of, you know, Florida’s new laws that are set to take effect, you know, July 1st, this law against Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District doesn’t begin until 2023. So, there is time. And in that time, for the next year, what potentially could happen?
Page: Well, Disney, first of all, has to decide what they wanna do. And I think so far they’ve not made a public statement about what their intentions are, whether they’re gonna sue to try to undo this action. They’re gonna think about it. They’ve got lawyers. They have very good lawyers. They’re gonna decide if this is something they wanna do, not just from a legal standpoint, because I do believe they have a legal right to do it, but do they wanna do this as a business decision? And you’re right, they have time to think about it. It’s not an emergency. They don’t have to act next week or even next month.
Fred: All right. Page Pate, I’ll just say so long, see you later, instead of goodbye.
Page: Hope to see you soon.
Fred: Might have you come back really, really soon. Thank you.
Page: Look forward.
Fred: All right.