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GOP lawmakers express mixed views on decision to ditch Charlie Crist's oil session

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist promised property tax relief Wednesday for those hit by the Gulf of Mexico oil crisis, earning praise from some of the very lawmakers who refused to hear policy solutions during this week's truncated special legislative session.

Tampa Bay area legislators who opposed a ban on oil drilling near Florida's shores said they had no regrets about voting to go home Tuesday, mere minutes after they convened.

They painted Crist's narrowly focused special session on the proposed constitutional amendment as a political gimmick that offered no help to business owners or employees whose wages have taken a dive since the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in April, but declined to offer solutions of their own without more time to study the disaster.

House and Senate leaders had proposed a second special session as early as September to discuss issues such as property tax relief, the type of policy Crist offered Wednesday.

"It seems to be a positive step and one that is more germane to the crisis," Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said of Crist's announcement. He mused that perhaps the Legislature's pushback during the special session, "resonated with the governor."

The Legislature, however, wasn't prepared to take a similar step this week, he said. Expanding the scope of the session to include topics other than the constitutional ban would have required a supermajority vote.

"We didn't have the work groups in place and, you know, the well just got capped," Galvano said. "There were a lot of things at play and the situation was really in flux. So, I think this is the time to look at the impact."

A handful of lawmakers said they supported the constitutional ban, but voted to end the session because GOP leaders, unwilling to grant Crist a political victory, had made it clear that no work would be done.

"If my vote would have been to keep people there, we would be sitting around for four days in our offices doing nothing and wasting taxpayers' money," said Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Palm Harbor, who chided House Speaker Larry Cretul for leaving policy decisions for later. "The speaker should have taken up the whole thing. It is too much of a delay."

But Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, defended his refusal to hear the constitutional ban on drilling, which would not have protected Florida from the oil spewing from near Louisiana.

The disaster "needs to be studied," he said. "It is not going to make any difference whether it gets done today or tomorrow. It is going to get done."

Proponents of the ban claim the special session could come back to haunt lawmakers. Environmental groups said they would urge people to remember the abandoned constitutional amendment at the ballot box.

"We essentially lost the battle to Big Oil, but we haven't given up the war," said Kim Ross, founder of Crude Awakening, a Tallahassee group that rallied for the drilling ban.

Political newcomers facing incumbents also vowed to use the failed session to prod voters.

"This issue will be part of an ongoing conversation about the culture of Tallahassee and the blatant abuse of power," said Amy Mercado, an Orlando Democrat running against future House Speaker Dean Cannon.

Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, was one of a handful of Republicans to vote against adjourning Tuesday's special session.

"I was very disappointed," he said. "I didn't anticipate that it was going to be so scripted."

Ambler said he wanted to put the amendment before voters: "They took away their right to even have a say-so. There's a lot of people out there that didn't think it was a waste of our time."

Even if House leaders didn't want to pass the constitutional amendment, they could have taken up economic relief, he said.

Rep. Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican who opposed the constitutional ban, said such threats of voter retribution are largely exaggerated.

Hours after he voted to go home Tuesday, Weatherford said a roomful of Pasco County tea party advocates rewarded him with a round of applause.

Times staff writer Lee Logan contributed to this report.

GOP lawmakers express mixed views on decision to ditch Charlie Crist's oil session 07/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 11:35pm]
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