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Florida legislative leaders say no to special session on oil spill

TALLAHASSEE — A special legislative session to provide relief for the oil-stained Florida coast dissolved Wednesday as a top Republican lawmaker said no urgent action is needed.

House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater rejected Gov. Charlie Crist's attempts in July to advance a constitutional ban on drilling in state waters and promised to study oil spill remedies for a potential September special session.

State law allowed the two presiding officers to convene their own special session. But Cretul, R-Ocala, told lawmakers in a letter that he believes any legislation in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill can wait until next year's regular legislative session in March.

Among the proposals under consideration: economic relief for businesses and tougher legal protections for those making oil damage claims.

"It would appear that while there are some issues where legislative action may be appropriate, there are no issues that require immediate formal legislative action," Cretul told lawmakers.

Atwater, who urgently called for a special session two weeks ago, reluctantly acquiesced, saying the House wouldn't budge.

"I have that urgency," the North Palm Beach Republican said in an interview. "I feel there is an uncertainty that still exists about the claims-paying process.''

Democrats pounced on the Republican leadership's inaction.

Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat, called the speaker's decision to only study the issue "nothing more than a political rope-a-dope."

"Though the hole has been plugged, the pain continues and our residents need to know Tallahassee is prepared to act," he said in a statement.

Sen. Don Gaetz, a Republican who represents the Panhandle coast, said he is hopeful lawmakers will address the spill in an organizational session after the November election.

"It is more important to have agreement between the House and Senate as to what's going to happen and how it's going to happen," he said, "than to squabble over the date."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Florida legislative leaders say no to special session on oil spill 09/01/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 11:18pm]
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