BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida Gov. Charlie Crist last week called for a special session of the Legislature on an oil-drilling ban in state waters, but the move has elicited criticism from lawmakers who say it’s a waste of money and others who say the limited scope of the session is disappointing.
“Recent events have conclusively shown the magnitude of damage oil spills can cause to ecosystems and communities in Florida and elsewhere,” Crist said in a proclamation ordering the Legislature into session from July 20 to July 23.
Crist wants lawmakers to place a constitutional amendment on the general election ballot Nov. 2 that would “prohibit the exploration for, the drilling for, the extraction of, and the production of oil beneath all Florida waters located between the mean high water line along the coastline of Florida and the seaward limit of Florida’s boundaries.”
The deadline to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot is Aug. 3.
State waters extend 10 miles offshore into the Gulf of Mexico and three miles offshore into the Atlantic.
Currently, Florida law prohibits drilling within the waters under its purview and for that reason a number of Republicans have criticized Crist, a former Republican now running for the U.S. Senate as an Independent, for calling the $40,000-a-day session.
However, lawmakers can change state law. The Republican-controlled House passed a bill allowing drilling in state waters during this year’s regular session.
While the move was rejected by the Senate, the majority of which is also Republican, some Democratic lawmakers said it shows why voters statewide should have a voice in deciding what happens in state waters.
Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-Palm Beach, said the special session is too soon because there are additional oil-related issues that are being studied.
Last month, Atwater asked the Select Committee on Florida’s Economy to identify actions the Legislature could take to mitigate the Gulf oil disaster’s impact on residents, including tax mitigation, impediments to crisis response, enhancements to the claims compensation process, and the creation of economic recovery zones.
“Given the costs and disruption of a special session, legislative action should be based on solid data and empirical analysis rather than political contrivance,” Atwater said in a statement. “I believe it is important for us to consider including additional, ameliorative measures into our agenda and go beyond the simple expedient of merely confirming what is already in law.”
Atwater said he would confer with House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, to determine if they should expand the call of the special session.
Florida’s elected chief financial officer, Alex Sink, on Monday urged Atwater and Cretul to expand the special session agenda to consider a number of initiatives, including laws guaranteeing recovery of economic damages suffered by businesses, homeowners, and local governments, speedier claims fulfillment, tax relief for owners whose property values have fallen because of the oil, and job training for those who have lost jobs due to the crisis.
Sink, a Democrat, also called for lawmakers to create an independently managed “Florida Environmental Endowment” funded by BP grants or future litigation settlements to study Florida’s aquatic environment.
Florida isn’t the only state considering new legislation on oil drilling.
According to published reports, Louisiana, North Carolina, New Jersey, and South Carolina are considering oil bills related to clean-up, recovering damages, or moratoriums on drilling offshore.
Meanwhile, up to an estimated 60,000 barrels of oil gushes daily from the April 22 sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf off Louisiana’s coast. The damaged BP-leased rig this week is being fitted with a new containment system in hopes of capturing greater quantities of the oil.