On July 20, 2010, the Florida Legislature convened in a special session called by Gov Charlie Crist for the limited purpose of placing a constitutional amendment to ban offshore drilling on the 2010 general election ballot. Both houses of the Legislature quickly adjourned without considering the proposal or any other legislation. A statutory ban on offshore drilling in Florida waters has been in place since 1990.
After being in session for less than an hour, the House adjourned on a largely party-line vote of 67 to 44. Later that afternoon, the Senate voted 18 to 16 in favor of adjournment.
Gov. Crist said he was “significantly disappointed for the people of Florida. I can't believe this Legislature has shirked its duty so badly. How arrogant can a Legislature be? I call this Legislature the do-nothing Legislature, and I'm going to give them hell for it.”
Senate President Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) said that the Senate would have been ready to take up legislation to provide relief to victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but both Gov. Crist and the House had resisted his efforts to expand the scope of the special session beyond the constitutional amendment.
Referring to the efforts of the Senate Select Committee on Florida's Economy, Sen. Atwater said the Senate was “the one chamber that's been trying to get this done.” Both Sen. Atwater and House Speaker Larry Cretul (R-Ocala) said that they intended to jointly call a special session, probably in September, to address the economic impacts of the oil spill.
Rep. Cretul, in his speech to the House, criticized Gov. Crist for calling the Legislature back into session “at the last possible moment to consider a constitutional amendment for which he never proposed any language and permitted far too little time for reflection and review.” He continued, “This is a terrible way to propose constitutional changes. Simple solutions designed to produce sound bites, photo ops, and political attacks will do nothing to help Floridians in need of recovery.”
Rep. Cretul announced that he had created several workgroups that would review relevant issues and report back to the House before the anticipated September special legislative session. The workgroups will address disaster preparation and response, programs to meet the immediate needs of impacted areas, private sector damages and processes for compensation, strategies for public sector recovery of damages, long-term economic recovery opportunities, and the adequacy of civil and criminal sanctions for offenses related to environmental disasters.
Immediately after adjournment of the July special session, the Senate Select Committee on Florida's Economy met to review a wide range of issues that could become subjects for legislation in the next special session. These areas include:
- Property tax relief for properties that have lost value because of the oil spill
- Civil compensation remedies, including creating additional causes of action, providing litigation advantages or sanctions, and providing alternative dispute resolution
- Creation of an office to assist Floridians with claims against BP or the federal claims administrator
- Reductions in employers' unemployment compensation liability
- Tolling of permits and extensions during a state of emergency