On July 8, 2010, Governor Charlie Crist issued a proclamation calling the Florida Legislature into a special session from 12:00 pm on Tuesday, July 20 through 5:00 pm on Friday, July 23. The scope of the special session is limited to placing a proposed amendment to the state constitution to ban offshore drilling on the November 2 general election ballot.
As described in the proclamation, the proposed amendment would “prohibit the exploration for, the drilling for, the extraction of and the production of oil beneath all Florida waters located between the mean high water line along the coastline of Florida and the seaward limit of Florida's boundaries.” The state's territorial waters extend nine nautical miles (10.36 statute miles) out from the mean high water line.
Florida statutes currently prohibit the state from granting any leases for oil exploration or drilling within the state's territorial waters.
A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Florida Constitution requires the affirmative vote of three-fifths of the membership of each house of the Legislature. If placed on the ballot, the amendment would require the approval of 60 percent of the people voting on the question.
The Legislature can take up issues outside of the governor's proclamation by a vote of two-thirds of the membership of each house.
Gov. Crist described the special session as a “rifle shot” to address public outrage over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He said, “The rightness of this is so clear, especially dealing with what we've experienced in the past 80 days or so in the Gulf of Mexico. I just don't think I'd be doing my duty as your governor if I didn't call this session and at least try.” He responded to suggestions that the proclamation was motivated by political considerations by saying, “Politics has nothing to do with this. This has everything to do with doing what's right for a place that I love. I love Florida.”
Reaction from legislative leaders was mostly negative. Senate President Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach), who is a candidate for chief financial officer, issued a letter to senators in which he said, “legislative action should be based on solid data and empirical analysis, rather than political contrivance.” However, he also noted that the special session creates an opportunity to consider “the meaningful and long-lasting reforms” that are already being studied by the Senate Select Committee on Florida's Economy. “Thus,” he said, “I believe it is important to for us to consider including additional, ameliorative measures into our agenda and go beyond the simple expedient of merely confirming what is already in law.”
Gov. Crist conceded that he did not have the support of House leadership, saying that his phone calls were not being returned. In an interview before the special session proclamation was issued, House Speaker Larry Cretul (R-Ocala) said, “Symbolic special sessions for some constitutional amendment that is already current law make no sense to me.”
Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos (R-Melbourne) said that he would vote against the proposed constitutional amendment and criticized the governor for calling “a hurried special session that will achieve nothing for Floridians.” He added, “If the governor is really committed to recovery efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, as his press office said, he had better have a host of substantial proposals for us to consider while he spends taxpayers' money calling a four-day special session in Tallahassee.”
Former House Speaker Marco Rubio (R-Miami), who is running against Gov. Crist for the U.S. Senate, described the special session as a “political sideshow that will do nothing to help Panhandle businesses, keep oil off our beaches, or prevent future spills.” U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-17th Congressional District), a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, noted that the governor had previously supported offshore drilling and asked, “Where was he before the oil spill?”
The special session proposal also was criticized by Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican candidate for governor, who said it did nothing to address the current oil spill problems. The Florida Chamber of Commerce described the special session as “a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate for governor, commended Gov. Crist for calling the special session “despite the resistance from special interests and some members of the Legislature,” adding that “the special session should also tackle the urgent needs for our business owners and state, including much-needed small business relief, a more streamlined claims process, and the creation of an environmental endowment for additional research.”