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Politics

Candidates Divided on Atwater's Call for Second Special Session

July 15, 2010 - 6:00pm

With Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, and House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, calling for a second special session of the Legislature at the end of summer to tackle economic issues resulting from the oil spill in the Gulf, Floridas political leaders and candidates are weighing in on its merits.

On Thursday, days before the opening of a special session called by Gov. Charlie Crist to forward a proposed constitutional amendment to the November ballot banning oil drilling in state waters, Atwater sent Cretul a letter proposing a second special session in the last week of August or the first week of September. Cretul quickly responded, agreeing to another special session in September-- estimated to cost as much as $60,000 a day.

Democrats took aim at the Republican leadership for delaying addressing the economic damage.

Were three months into this mess, and our small-business owners and citizens should not have to wait another two months for relief, said Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the likely Democratic nominee for governor. Delaying urgently needed tax relief and economic initiatives for our small-business owners and residents devastated by this oil disaster is wrong. The Florida Legislature should be prepared to do their job and not force taxpayers to spend more money on another special session.

Former Rep. Loranne Ausely, the Democratic candidate for state CFO, criticized Atwater for putting off matters -- no surprise as the Senate president will be her Republican opponent come November.

"The citizens of Northwest Florida and the Gulf have waited long enough for help and they cannot afford to wait any longer," said Ausley. "I have spent a significant amount of time in the areas affected by the BP oil spill listening to business owners, fishermen, oystermen, and their families. Their message is crystal clear -- help is needed now!"

Floridians deserve strong leadership from the Legislature on these issues and unfortunately Senate President Atwater is dropping the ball when it comes to helping our state respond to this crisis, said Ausley. Oil has been contaminating the Gulf for over 80 days and we should not have to wait any longer for the Legislature to act."

State Senate President Jeff Atwater needs to come to Tallahassee now and solve these problems -- not in August or September, added Ausley. The citizens along the Gulf can't wait any longer.

Republicans rushed to defend Atwater and Cretul for calling for another special session.

"I join my colleagues in the Senate and House today, in their call for a special session in late August or early September, to diligently research and evaluate the needs of our neighbors in Northwest Florida and thoughtfully craft legislation that will focus on, and deliver, an economic revival to all those affected by this disaster," said incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.

I applaud the Florida Legislature for calling a special session later this summer to further research and discuss the economic issues that have resulted from the spill, as this issue deeply impacts my friends and family in my hometown of Pensacola, said former Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Holly Benson, who is running in the Republican primary for attorney general.

In the meantime, Cretul told House members via memo:

I agree fully with President Atwater that we are not ready to legislate with respect to the oil spill, wrote Cretul. To that end, I have instructed our staff to work with the Senate staff to finalize the process and the dates for a special session no earlier than September.

Accordingly, you can expect your stay to be very short next week, but in the coming weeks you can expect to be recruited for numerous legislative efforts to identify and craft solutions to problems related to the oil spill, added Cretul.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or (850) 727-0859.

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