At a hastily called press conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. Charlie Crist called for a special session of the Legislature to propose voters decide in November whether to put an offshore oil-drilling ban in the Florida Constitution.
This gives the people of Florida -- to put in their constitution, and its their constitution -- a ban on oil drilling off Florida waters, said Crist at the 1:15 p.m. press event announcing the session.
The session will start on Tueday, July 20 -- three months to the day when the Deepwater Horizon accident occurred that unleashed the oil spill still impacting the Gulf of Mexico. The session will last until Friday, July 23.
Having left the Republican Party to continue his campaign for the U.S. Senate as an independent, Crist will face some political obstacles in the Legislature. There are solid Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate, still hostile to the governor for bolting the GOP. Included in Republican ranks are legislators, including incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and incoming Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, who were firm supporters of offshore drilling until the oil spill.
Crists challenges in the upcoming special session were evident Thursday. While the governor said that Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, would sponsor the proposed amendment in the Senate, he added that he had not yet found a sponsor for the measure in the House.
Jill Chamberlin, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, said that her boss had no comment yet on the announcement of the special session.
As you know, the speaker has wanted to avoid special sessions unless it was for matters of urgency for which there was a specific plan, said Chamberlin. Hell be sitting down, talking with the staff tomorrow and well see where we go from there."
Despite Crists bid for the U.S. Senate seat, the governor insisted that his call for the special session had nothing to do with his electoral ambitions -- despite claims by Republicans that offshore drilling is already prohibited in state statutes.
Politics has nothing to do with this, said Crist. This has everything to do with doing whats right for a place that I love. I love Florida. I know that its already barred in the statutes.
While some lawmakers have proposed the special session tackles other issues, such as property tax relief for Gulf property owners and renewable energy measures, Crist insisted the session needed to focus on the proposed amendment and nothing else. The governor said the proposal needed to be advanced by the Legislature and signed by him no later than Aug. 4 to be added to the ballot.
I didnt want to get confused about what we would be here about, said Crist. This is time-sensitive. The other issues are not.
For the amendment to pass, three-fifths of both the Senate and the House need to support the measure. It will then be placed on the November ballot where it will require 60 percent approval from the voters.
Officeholders around the state reacted quickly to Crists call for a special session.
I commend the governor for agreeing to call for a special session to ban near-beach oil drilling, despite the resistance from special interests and some members of the Legislature, said state CFO Alex Sink, the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate. In addition to banning near-beach drilling, the special session should also tackle the urgent needs for our business owners and state, including much-needed small business relief, a more streamlined claims process, and the creation of an environmental endowment for additional research.
Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, said the special session is a waste. "I think we're dealing with something that is already unlawful," he said. "And to call us up at the cost of $60,000 a day to pass something that's already unlawful doesn't make much sense to me." Crist should be making it a priority to obtain additional oil skimmers for the state instead of spending time on a session, Hudson said.
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, praised Crist's decision. "The governor is allowing the people of Florida to decide whether to put the issue in the Constitution, and I support the governor," he said.