A special session of the Florida Legislature is scheduled to begin on July 20, 2010. Governor Charlie Crist called the special session for the limited purpose of putting a constitutional amendment to ban offshore drilling in Florida waters on the November general election ballot.
A series of communications from legislative leaders shows a lack of support for the governor's initiative, at least within legislative leadership. On July 15, Senate President Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) recommended a special session in late August or early September to address the economic consequences of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. In explaining why he considered the July special session premature, Sen. Atwater said, “Floridians will not be well served by hastily drafted legislation designed more for political consumption than meaningful economic relief.”
Sen. Atwater noted that the Senate Select Committee on Florida's Economy was working on recommendations to “remove regulatory impediments to local response efforts, assess the need for waivers for professional assistance, improve the claims compensation process, and strengthen future litigation possibilities.” In a separate memorandum, Select Committee Chair Don Gaetz (R-Destin) mentioned additional issues, including property tax relief, unemployment compensation tax relief, bridge loans for affected businesses, tolling of permits, and local option oil spill cleanup planning.
In a memorandum to House members on July 15, House Speaker Larry Cretul (R-Ocala) said, “I agree fully with President Atwater that we are not ready to legislate with respect to the oil spill.” Therefore, he advised his members to “expect your stay to be very short” during the July 20 – 23 special session. In an interview with reporters, the speaker said he planned to vote against the governor's proposed constitutional amendment if it came up for a vote. “I'm not into symbolic stuff, I'm into meaningful stuff,” he said.
In a response to Sen. Atwater's letter, Rep. Cretul did not accept the Senate proposal for a joint committee, but he promised cooperation, saying “I am committing the full resources of the House to the full exploration of any and all reasonable legislation likely to aid Florida's survival of and recovery from the oil spill.” He added that he was ready to join in a call for a special session “as early as September, as soon as we can identify those subjects upon which we can act … .”
Gov. Crist, who left the Republican Party in April to run for the U.S. Senate without party affiliation, attacked the Republican leaders of the Legislature, saying, “They put the special interests of their party ideology ahead of what's right for the people. They've completely lost their way, and the people know it. And if they go down this path, they'll demonstrate it in regrettable glory.”