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Politics

Senate President Jeff Atwater Calls for Second Special Session

July 14, 2010 - 6:00pm

With the Legislature going into special session next week to consider backing a constitutional amendment to ban oil drilling in state waters, Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, is now ready for a second oil-related session to be held at the end of summer -- and he has the backing of the House speaker.

Atwater, who is the Republican nominee for state CFO, sent a letter to House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, asking for a second special session to tackle the economic impact of the oil spill still plaguing the Gulf.

We must ensure our actions assist, not impede, Floridas response and recovery from this disaster, wrote Atwater. Floridians will not be well-served by hastily drafted legislation designed more for political consumption than meaningful economic relief. Instead, I firmly believe that we should be dedicating every resource at our disposal, sparing no effort, to deliver substance for the citizens of Florida.

Atwater added that he hoped a second special session could focus on how Floridians hurt by the oil spill could be compensated by BP.

There is currently no clear guidance on the claims process and there are different procedures for individuals, businesses and governments, wrote Atwater. This confusion may be further exacerbated when the federal government takes over the distribution of BP dollars and the claims resolution process as they have indicated that additional guidelines will be forthcoming over the next few weeks. Ill-advised and poorly conceived legislative action might very well impede the speedy resolution of claims and make things more difficult for the citizens of Florida.

Atwater wrote that he agreed with a suggestion from Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, for the House and Senate to establish a joint committee to develop legislation to help the Sunshine State recover from the impact of the oil spill.

Atwater did not mention the constitutional amendment to ban drilling in Floridas waters but, like the session that Gov. Charlie Crist called for next week, his proposed session would last a week.

[A] special session during the last week of August or first week of September would be well-positioned to make the statutory changes that would assure real immediate economic relief in the Gulf while maintaining our options for economic recovery in the future, wrote Atwater.

Later in the afternoon, Cretul sent a letter back to the Senate president, Jeff Atwater, saying he was open to Atwaters call for a second special session. Cretul also took a shot at Gov. Charlie Crists call for the Legislature to pass a proposed constitutional amendment to voters which would ban oil drilling in state waters.

I am glad we agree that productive legislation addressing the Gulf oil spill cannot be enacted during next week's scheduled special session, wrote Cretul. Our duty is to dispose of executive proposals responsibly. Rushing to amend the Constitution at the last possible moment because of an accident hundreds of miles from our jurisdiction does not typify deliberation and responsible legislation.

I assure you that the House is also actively exploring the nature of the injuries, the nature of the federal and private responses, and all suggestions for state response that may require legislation, continued Cretul. I believe we can cooperate as we prepare legislative proposals to be considered at a reasonable time. I have asked my staff to work with the Senate staff to resolve the details of the appropriate process and dates for a special session.

Consequently, I am committing the full resources of the House to the full exploration of any and all responsible legislation likely to aid Florida's survival of and recovery from the oil spill, concluded Cretul, who rejected Atwaters idea that the session could be held in the last week of August.I am also ready, willing and able to join you in calling a special session to convene as early as September, as soon as we can identify those subjects upon which we can act in order to responsibly improve our state's health."

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

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