Florida voters won't be voting on oil drill ban in November

5:38 PM, Jul 20, 2010   |    comments
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Video: Crist: "How arrogant can a Legislature be?"

Gov. Charlie Crist speaks at a news conference only moments after the House and Senate adjourned a special session without taking up a drilling ban amendment.

Tallahassee, Florida -- It seems Florida voters will not get the opportunity in November to vote on a constitutional amendment to ban offshore drilling.

In less than hour after convening, the Florida House voted 67-44 to adjourn the special session called by Governor Charlie Crist in April, without taking up the issue.

House Speaker Larry Cretul (R-Ocala) suggested lawmakers reconvene for a September special session and focus on Florida's recovery from the spill. 

The Senate adjourned its session about an hour later, voting 18-16 to call it off.  Before the vote, some state senators blasted the House, asking, "What is the House afraid of?"

Previous Story: Special session may last just minutes

Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) said the the House leaving Tallahassee without discussing the proposed amendment is "not embarrassing the Governor, but themselves."

Even if the Senate decided to move forward, the issue would not have gone on the November ballot without support from the House.

Governor Crist came under fire by many House Republicans who claimed the call for special session was a waste of tax payer money and a political ploy.

"To be here today to politically posture and put a symbolic ploy in place for political gain is wrong and I'm hopeful that we can come back in September with some meaningful legislation that this body can be proud of," said Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.

Crist denies the claims.

Lawmakers who voted against the proposed amendment said there was no need to ban something that state law already bans and called for the Legislature's focus be placed on assisting the communities impacted by the spill, speeding up the claims process and putting people back to work.

Crist lashed out in a news conference asking,"How arrogant can a Legislature be?"

He added, "Today, I call this Legislature a 'do-nothing' Legislature, and I'm going to give them hell for it.  I can't believe they would have that much of a lack of respect for the people of Florida that they wouldn't even give them a chance to vote on an issue that is impacting Florida as much as this is."

Phil Compton, with the Sierra Club of Tampa Bay, called the Legislature's decision to abandon the oil drilling debate outrageous.

The Sierra Club, along with several Bay area tourism leaders called their own news conference Tuesday afternoon, blasting the Legislature for taking away their opportunity to vote on oil drilling.

"They are not willing to trust the people of Florida to make a decision on their own, whether or not to ban drilling within a few miles of our precious beaches in the state of Florida.  That takes a lot of arrogance," said Frank Jackalone, the Florida director of the Sierra Club.

Jackalone recognized Florida's current ban on drilling, but pointed out lawmakers can overturn it at anytime.  A voter approved amendment would prevent that, he said.

The group is calling on lawmakers to call another special session in two weeks, so they can get the proposed amendment on the ballot by the August 4th deadline.

House Republicans lash back

The usually mild-mannered House Speaker Larry Cretul (R-Ocala) had harsh words for Gov. Charlie Crist.  Cretul accused Crist of calling the session for political gain.

"The fact remains that he has called us here at the last possible moment to consider a constitutional amendment for which he never proposed any language and permitted far too little time for reflection and review.  This is a terrible way to propose constitutional changes."

Cretul said he was convinced the proposed amendment would do nothing to help businesses and people hurt by the BP oil spill.  So he created six work groups to study the issue and offer recommendations by the end of August.

The groups have been directed to focus on six topics:  short term assistance, private sector damage claims, recovering of damages paid by state and local governments, strengthening criminal penalties for violating environmental laws, economic diversification and disaster response preparedness for future events.

Cretul said the House will work toward another session likely in September to consider ways to help public and private interests.

The offshore drilling ban amendment isn't a completely dead issue though.

House Speaker Cretul told House members, "In the calm after the crisis, I will trust your judgment on whether or not to submit a question to the people of Florida for their ratification at the 2012 general election."

Laura Kadechka, 10 Connects. Dave Heller in Tallahassee contributed to this report.

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