Constitutional Drilling Ban Dead Until 2012 at the Earliest
With lawmakers on Tuesday quickly rebuffing Gov. Charlie Crist’s request to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November, the measure appears dead until at the earliest 2012.
Prior to adjourning the House less than an hour after the special session began, Speaker Larry Cretul left open the possibility that the drilling ban could come back in next year’s regular session - on the House’s terms – though he will be gone from the Legislature.
“Those of you returning next year may then think it is a good idea to amend our constitution to prohibit energy exploration and production in Florida waters,” he said. “If so, in the calm after the crisis, I trust your judgment whether or not to submit such a question to the people of Florida for their ratification at the 2012 general election.”
The legislation (HJR 7C) that would have put the drilling ban on the ballot this year would have prohibited oil and gas exploration within 10 miles of the Florida shore.
Rallying with supporters of the measure on the steps of the old Capitol Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Crist exhorted lawmakers to “let the people vote.” But in a striking rebuke to the governor, Cretul said that it was too soon for the Legislature to vote on the measure ahead of the Aug. 4 deadline to place amendments on this year’s ballot.
“I trust the flexibility and deliberative process in regular session far more than this process through with a governor may very specifically and precisely limit the alternatives that may be considered by the Legislature,” Cretul said.
Cretul said the state needed a multi-pronged response to the spill, which he said would have lasting affects, not just a ban on offshore drilling.
“The governor’s sole proposal to amend the constitution won’t put a single new skimmer off our beaches, won’t produce any new boom to protect our coasts, won’t save a single business or create a single job,” the normally reserved speaker said Tuesday. “The governor’s proposal won’t help us force BP to be any more accountable, speed up the claims process or prevent another distant hundreds of miles from our shores from impacting our state.
“It would only ban an industry that is already banned while neglecting the real needs of Florida and its people,” he said.
To address those needs, Cretul said Tuesday he was creating six workshops tasked with addressed short-term assistance, private sector damages claims and compensation processes, recovery of a damages to and expenditures by state and local governments, strengthening penalties for environmental injuries, long-term economic recovery and future disaster responses.
The panels will be chaired by Reps. Marlene O’Toole, R-Lady Lake, Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, Matt Hudson, R-Naples, Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda and Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, respectively.
They will be charged with reporting back to the speaker by the end of August.
It was a sharp contrast from the “rifle shot” Crist described in calling the special session. Cretul’s plan did not find not find much support among Democrats either, who called the early end of the special session embarrassing.
House Minority Leader Franklin Sands said he didn’t buy the House Republicans’ argument that the issue can wait because in the wake of the spill they have no intention of raising the prospect of new drilling in Florida waters anytime soon.
“To me, the pledges that the Republicans have taken are written on toilet paper,” Sands said. “And we all know what you can do with toilet paper.”
Unlike the House, the Senate had planned to debate the drilling amendment and possibly vote on it, but sponsor Sen. Alex Villalobos said Tuesday that although he was prepared to argue in favor of a proposed constitutional ban on oil drilling, with the House having adjourned, there was no reason to.
Several Senate Republicans said they’d like to go forward with a vote anyway, but others agreed with Villalobos that it was pointless.
“We have a three-legged stool and we’re only one leg of the stool,” said Sen. Nancy Detert, who said she planned to support the drilling ban. “We can’t pass a law all by ourselves. I’m sympathetic with people who are deprived of a vote on this because now I’m deprived of a vote.”
In the end, the Senate voted 18-16 to adjourn Tuesday afternoon.