Make us your home page
Instagram

Special session on drilling poses hard choice for GOP lawmakers from the coast

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist's call for a special session on oil drilling has put some coastal Republican lawmakers in a tough spot.

House leaders are generally cool to adding a proposed constitutional amendment banning drilling to the ballot. They point out that Florida law already bans drilling in state waters. They call the governor's move a political stunt.

"It's not productive to talk about rebanning something that's already illegal," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Fort Walton Beach.

But lawmakers also know that banning drilling is a political slam-dunk in an election year with images of oiled pelicans, tar balls and empty beachfront hotels on voters' minds.

"I congratulate the governor for at least giving the members a chance to vote on it before Election Day," said Sen. Dennis Jones, a Seminole Republican who supports Crist's independent bid for the U.S. Senate. "That way, the general public will have a sense of where their representative stands."

A ''no'' vote poses a political risk to Republicans whose districts include sugar-white sand on the Panhandle, fragile estuaries on the Nature Coast or South Florida beaches vulnerable to the loop current. Most of those lawmakers said they would vote for a ban or are leaning toward it.

Gaetz and future Senate President Mike Haridopolos of Merritt Island are two of a few coastal Republicans to publicly oppose a constitutional ban. Gaetz argues that the constitution "shouldn't be used to litigate the hot issue of the day."

Two lawmakers — Reps. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill — refused to say how they would vote.

Bogdanoff said it's "premature to address that issue" and that lawmakers should focus on tangible relief for victims of the oil spill.

Although Crist limited the July 20-23 session to the drilling ban, House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater could decide to add other topics, such as:

• Tax relief for coastal business owners whose property values have dropped because of the oil spill.

• Expanding the attorney general's power to prosecute for environmental wrongdoing.

• Allowing businesses to keep part of their tax revenue to avoid layoffs.

• A target for renewable energy production in Florida. The Senate last year passed a 20 percent goal by 2020.

"At least then the people of Florida would get something for their money," Schenck said of the $200,000 cost of a four-day special session. "Right now they're getting zero."

Incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon of Winter Park spent that exact amount — $200,000 — this spring on a consultant study to help justify his push for drilling in Florida waters.

Cannon and Haridopolos, who are about to control the Legislature for the next two years, both say Deepwater Horizon is a "game-changer" that puts off expanded drilling for the foreseeable future.

To get on this year's November ballot, lawmakers must pass a proposed amendment with a three-fifths vote before Aug. 4. At least 60 percent of voters must approve the proposal to place it in the constitution.

A ban would likely find a more receptive audience in the Senate, where several moderate Republicans would join with Democrats to send the measure to voters.

Rep. Ron Schultz — who is quick to point out that he would vote for a ban — conceded the House could be a stumbling block.

"I doubt the votes are there," he said. "And if the leadership doesn't sign on, I'm sure the votes won't be there."

Schultz, R-Homosassa, also floated a theory that top leaders might agree to pass a drilling ban in exchange for a chance to revisit their push for an amendment to give them more power to draw political boundaries.

The Legislature's Amendment 7, a response to the Fair Districts proposals, was tossed off the ballot Thursday by a Tallahassee judge who said it was too confusing. On the same day, Crist called for the session on drilling.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Special session on drilling poses hard choice for GOP lawmakers from the coast 07/09/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 10, 2010 2:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park

    Tourism

    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  2. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  3. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood

    Business

    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  4. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa

    Business

    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  5. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county

    Water

    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.