People gather at the Magic Kingdom theme park before the "Festival of Fantasy" parade at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, U.S. July 30, 2022.
New YorkCNN — 

Disney and DeSantis have settled their yearslong dispute A yearslong fight between Disney and Florida is set to end after the two parties agreed to a settlement.

In a meeting Wednesday morning, members of the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, a body that governs the special tax district Disney is located in, approved a settlement to end a legal dispute.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis set up the Central Florida Tourism District to oversee the area in which Disney operates nearly two years ago, amid a growing conflict between the Florida governor and the entertainment giant.

The war of words between Disney and DeSantis began in March 2022, after Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against the controversial bill that restricts certain instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. Opponents have labeled the controversial law “Don’t Say Gay.” Chapek called the bill a “challenge to basic human rights.”

Shortly after, DeSantis asked Florida’s legislature to terminate the longstanding special privileges granted to Disney in Central Florida, appointing a new board of hand-picked supervisors to oversee the district.

The board has threatened to hike taxes, raise utility rates and develop the land around the entertainment giant’s Central Florida theme parks. Disney sued DeSantis and his allies last year, claiming the company’s free speech was violated.

“Everything we’ve done has been in the best interests of the state of Florida,” DeSantis said Wednesday at a press conference in Orlando. “I’m glad that they were able to do that settlement,” he said.

What the settlement entails

Per the terms of the settlement, Disney will drop its public records request lawsuit it filed last year against the special tax district that alleged the oversight board was withholding files in violation of Florida law. Disney was seeking to build a case against the current tax district to fight its claims that agreements with the prior one governing the same area, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, were null and void.

A trial was set to begin in June. But now, Disney holds that prior agreements are null and void and intends to negotiate a new deal that likely would be beneficial to Disney’s development plans in the area.

Separately, in January a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Disney filed accusing DeSantis of weaponizing his political power to punish the company for exercising its right to free speech. Disney quickly filed an appeal, but it will now put that on hold “pending negotiations” on a new development deal, among other matters, with the district.

Additionally, both parties agreed to drop the various state-wide lawsuits they’ve filed against one another. Instead, both agreed to resolve their differences outside of the courtroom in way that would not require either to admit any fault or liability, according to text of the settlement

The lawsuit was filed in federal court minutes after the board appointed by DeSantis to oversee Disney’s special taxing district sought to claw back its power from the entertainment giant, voting to invalidate an agreement struck between Disney and the previous board in February, just before that board’s dissolution.

“What they created is an absolute legal mess, OK? It will not work,” said Martin Garcia, chairman of the DeSantis-picked Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board of supervisors.

Wednesday’s moves are the latest escalation in the fight between DeSantis and Disney as DeSantis moves toward a 2024 presidential bid.

Disney responded by suing DeSantis, the board and Florida Department of Economic Opportunity acting secretary Meredith Ivey, seeking to block the board’s moves.

The lawsuit characterizes Wednesday’s vote as the “latest strike” in “a targeted campaign of government retaliation – orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.”

It says DeSantis’ retaliation “now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”

“Disney finds itself in this regrettable position because it expressed a viewpoint the Governor and his allies did not like. Disney wishes that things could have been resolved a different way,” the lawsuit says. “But Disney also knows that it is fortunate to have the resources to take a stand against the State’s retaliation – a stand smaller businesses and individuals might not be able to take when the State comes after them for expressing their own views. In America, the government cannot punish you for speaking your mind.”

The board’s move Wednesday was expected, and board members in previous meetings had previewed its argument over why it saw the agreement as invalid. In March, the board hired a team of law firms to represent the district in “potential legal challenges” with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, signaling that DeSantis’ appointees anticipated the fight was headed to the court room.

Disney CEO Bob Iger hinted at the entertainment giant’s case against the state when he told shareholders earlier this month that “the company has a right to freedom of speech just like individuals do.”

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