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Disney claims a small victory in its dispute with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis


OK, so it looks like Mickey Mouse just pulled one over on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, at least for the moment. The dispute started back when Disney objected to what critics call Florida's Don't Say Gay law. DeSantis then signed a bill that basically allowed him to put allies on a board that controls a special tax zone that includes Walt Disney World. At least that's what the governor thought he'd done. To give us the scoop, Matt Belloni joins us. He covers Hollywood for Puck News, and he's also a lawyer, which is going to come in handy with this 'cause it's a little complicated. Hi, Matt. Thanks for joining us.

MATT BELLONI: Thank you. Yes, it's very complicated.

RASCOE: So this new board Governor DeSantis had put in place has gotten some big surprise in the past few days, right? Like what happened with this?

BELLONI: So at the last meeting before this new board took over, the Disney-backed board did something interesting. They changed a bunch of the bylaws and essentially handcuffed this new board where it is not going to be able to do most of the things that they thought they were going to be able to do. They can't govern the theme parks. They can't decide where the taxes go. They basically can't do anything except maintain the roads and the foliage around the roads. And that was a very deliberate move by Disney in advance of this turnover. And it's something that I know Disney is very confident legally that it has done the right thing here.

RASCOE: All of this hinges on something I had never heard before, but it's something called the royal lives clause. Or they were talking about perpetuity on Twitter.

BELLONI: (Laughter)

RASCOE: And I was like, what is going on?

BELLONI: OK. So this is an interesting wrinkle here because what Disney did is they included language in the agreement - there's a rule in the law called the rule against perpetuities, where you're not allowed to keep something in the same hands forever. So in a lot of, like, 18th- and 19th-century century property documents, you would see this language referring to, this property is in the hands and will be governed based on the descendants of the king and their descendants and no longer.

RASCOE: So they said that basically King Charles III of the United Kingdom, that this would be in place until, like, 21 years after his last living descendant. That seemed like a long time (laughter).

BELLONI: It is a long time. And they did it because royal people tend to live a long time.


BELLONI: They are very well taken care of.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yes.

BELLONI: The queen that just passed away lived to almost 100.


BELLONI: So basically, this happened in an open hearing. They didn't hide it, but they didn't, like, you know, broadcast it from the mountaintops. They didn't say, this is what we're doing. But somebody could have paid attention, right?

BELLONI: Exactly. This was a public hearing. In fact, it was so public that a Disney podcaster attended and talked about it on "The Disney Dish" podcast when it happened. But Disney certainly didn't announce it. And they didn't make any fanfare after all of this was passed. It is only coming out now because the new board is in place, and they are expressing frustration at their inability to do anything. And then the Orlando Sentinel wrote about the whole controversy, and now everybody's talking about it.

RASCOE: So what might come next? I mean, it sounds like when you're talking about Disney, you're talking about a state, it sounds like it could be a big legal battle.

BELLONI: Well, this is a legal and political fight. We have no idea how DeSantis is going to respond. Whenever you're in a fight with the governor of a state, they have a lot of powers, and they have a lot of things they can do to make your life not fun. But Disney would argue that they're the victims here. They were just doing what they do normally. And they've had this special tax district for 50 years. And it was DeSantis who went after them, not vice versa.

RASCOE: That's Matt Belloni, who covers Hollywood in his podcast "The Town." Thanks so much for talking about this with us.

BELLONI: Thank you.


Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.