Gov Crist Considers Special Session on Offshore Drilling Ban

TALLAHASSEE — Faced with the potential loss of millions of dollars and Florida’s “sand-between your toes “reputation, Gov. Charlie Crist said Thursday he’d consider calling lawmakers back to put an offshore drilling ban into the Florida Constitution.

Several Democratic lawmakers and Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink called for the ban, saying the timing may be right to pass what even a few weeks ago was unthinkable, a ban on offshore drilling etched in constitutional stone.

During a visit to Palm Beach County, Crist told the Palm Beach Post he would not rule out a special session to consider the proposal on oil and gas exploration in response to damage both actual, anticipated and perceived caused by an explosion and subsequent spill at a BP Oil exploratory well more than 100 miles from the nearest Florida beach.

“This much is clear. Let me be very clear about this, as far as oil drilling is concerned: Not now, no way,” Crist told the Post. “Whether it’s in the form of a constitutional amendment or a special session remains to be seen.”

Whether there are enough votes in the Republican-controlled Legislature to put the question before Florida voters is a major question–and appears unlikely. The News Service was unable to find any GOP legislators who would say Thursday that they would vote for such a proposal. The backers would need 72 votes in the House and 24 in the Senate to put the issue on the ballot.

And the House deputy majority leader, Rep. Seth McKeel, said Democrats were seeking to capitalize politically on the spill with the call for a constitutional ban.

“Right now it’s important that we focus on the disaster at hand and not be distracted by those looking to score political points off what may be an environmental and economic blow to our state,” McKeel, R-Lakeland, said in a statement put out by the Republican majority office. “There will be plenty of time to address this issue when all the facts are in hand, but right now our focus must and should be on assisting the Floridians whose lives are going to be affected by this crisis.” Meanwhile, Florida tourism representatives and Attorney General Bill McCollum on Thursday urged businesses to keep track of lost income as Florida weighs the possibility of joining other states in legal action against BP, the world’s fifth largest corporation with revenues of $241 billion for its last fiscal year.

In a letter to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, McCollum and AGs from the other other Gulf states said government officials need to coordinate efforts to launch legal action if the company doesn’t completely refill public and private coffers for the disaster that has already cost Florida’s tourism dependent economy million in cancellations and trips planned elsewhere.

“We recognize that BP has stated publicly that it will live up to its obligation to pay all claims

arising from this environmental and economic disaster,” said McCollum, the leading Republican candidate for governor. “We hope that BP will. But we would be remiss in our responsibilities if we did not consider the possibility that enforcement or litigation efforts may be required in the future.”

Meeting with restaurant owners, hotel, motel and resort businesses in Pensacola Beach, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association president Carol Dover had two messages: First, consumers need to continue to come to Florida, where beaches, fishing waters, shopping centers and other attractions are open, untarnished and ready for business. But business owners need to keep track of what they have already lost because of merely the threat of oil-soaked beaches and coastal waters.

Meanwhile, lawmakers need to address the issue once and for all, Democrats say. Given the recent chain of events, they may now be able to muster the votes to pass a proposed constitutional amendment.

“This is the appropriate time to make a long-term decision,” said Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota. “In the absence of real threat, it may be too easy to downplay the costs. Now that we see what the risks are, we could make what I consider a conservative call.”

But Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola, said Thursday he's not ready to drop his support of offshore drilling.

“Planes crash but you don't ban flying,” Murzin said. “No, I would not support a constitutional ban on drilling."

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