Interest in a potential special session of the Florida Legislature remains high, while the timing of a potential session remains uncertain.
Governor Charlie Crist continues to support the concept of a special session to propose an amendment to the state constitution to prohibit offshore-oil drilling, but a drilling ban amendment cannot be placed on the 2010 general election ballot unless it is approved by the Legislature before August 4, 2010. Although the governor has indicated that his proposal would have the support of Senate leadership, he concedes that House leaders have yet to be convinced. Both Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos (R-Melbourne) and House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon (R-Winter Park) have said that they have no intention of trying to overturn the current statutory ban on offshore drilling and that therefore a constitutional ban is not needed.
Sen. Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach), the current Senate President and Republican candidate for chief financial officer, has supported a special session to provide tax relief for property owners whose value has declined because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or other means of addressing the negative economic impacts of the oil spill.
Leading Democrats have recently added to the pressure for a special session. House Minority Leader-designate Ron Saunders (D-Key West) said on June 29, 2010 that property owners and local governments are already absorbing costs associated with the oil spill and that a drop in tourism-related tax revenues could have an immediate impact on state finances. He also raised concerns about the way BP, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon well, was handling claims from affected businesses and individuals. Rep. Saunders said, “I think we're better off coming into session in July to be able to address budget changes, also if we need to make statutory changes to speed up the claims process, for example, or if we need to change the way advertising dollars are spent.”
Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate for governor, also called for a special session to address the BP claims process. “What my office is studying right now is legislation to protect and to clarify when businesses are filing claims, what the expectations are from BP,” she said. She compared the situation with the deadlines and other requirements that apply to insurance claims after a hurricane, adding that “right now we're in a situation with BP where there are no rules and there are no expectations.”
House Majority Leader Adam Hasner (R-Delray Beach) said that a decision on a special session might need to wait until early August, when the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference will provide an updated projection of sales tax collections. In a press interview, Rep. Hasner said that the public was angry about an apparent lack of coordination between BP and the federal government, “but rushing into a special session without the full picture is not going to solve these problems.”
Budget issues unrelated to the oil spill also may affect the prospects for a special session. Congress has thus far failed to extend the Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage (FMAP). The state budget for the 2010 – 2011 fiscal year, which began on July 1, included $960 million in FMAP money. The budget included $730 million in reserves and $230 million in spending on health care, the Bright Futures scholarship program, and Everglades restoration that was contingent on FMAP funding.