TALLAHASSEE -- Despite the optimism of Gov. Charlie Crist, local delegates say it’s unlikely lawmakers will conclude the four-day special session with a proposed constitutional amendment to ban drilling in state waters.
With Tuesday set to begin a four-day special session devoted to drilling, local lawmakers say that little will likely be accomplished in what is expected to be a politically charged, and potentially abbreviated session that could end long before the four-day limit.
“I’m disappointed the governor called a special session,” said Sen. Garrett Richter R-Naples, “The genesis of the call seems more political than policy driven. Given that situation, I don’t not expect to have much accomplished. “ Crist called the special session earlier this month without the buy-in of Legislative leaders. Historically, special sessions have been successful when the legislative chambers and the governor are in general agreement before calling all members back for proceedings that cost about $40,000 a day.
In this case, however, Crist has little buy-in from legislative leaders and has raised the ire of some lawmakers for what they see is a political move.
“As I’ve already said, it makes no practical sense to bring us all back to make something that is already illegal more illegal,” said Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples.
In response, a flurry of proposals have been introduced that would deal with other oil related issues and jumpstart the state’s slumbering economy in the wake of recession and the oil spill. Among those proposals is a trio of bills by Rep. Tom Grady, R-Naples, that include the abolition of the state’s corporate income tax.
Grady said earlier in the week that the session would be a good time to address more pragmatic issues related to the spill, saying a proposed constitutional amendment was unnecessary and redundant, given the fact that state law already bans drilling in state waters.
That, coupled with public anti-drilling sentiment in the wake of the BP spill, will ensure that no drilling rigs would be plying Florida waters for the foreseeable future.
“We are not going to see drilling in the gulf. “I think this is more about politics.” Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach and House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, agreed Thursday to limit the special session to a single topic: Crist’s proposal for a constitutional ban on drilling between three and 10 miles off Florida’s gulf coast. Other issues could be dealt with in September, if lawmakers return for another special session.
In the meantime, House and Senate committees overseeing economic recovery and the oil spill will continue to compare notes and attempt to come up with a consensus plan to address the state’s immediate economic concerns including the claims process, tax incentives to spur economic development and a measure to bolster the state’s ability to collect damages from future spills and other man-made disasters.
“Floridians will not be well served by hastily drafted legislation designed more for political consumption than meaningful economic relief,” Atwater said.
In a memo to House members, Cretul appeared to agree with Atwater that “we are not ready to legislate with respect to the oil spill.” But Cretul went further by implying the Crist’s proposal has little chance for success.
“You can expect your stay to be very short next week,” Cretul wrote House members.
Last week, Grady filed a trio of bills to add to the special session agenda. The Naples Republican wants colleagues to eliminate the state’s corporate income tax and strengthen state liability laws to specifically strike caps on pollutant discharge damage and make it clear that state and local governments can sue for lost revenue in the event of a spill or other man-made disaster. He also wants lawmakers to take a look at retirement benefits.
“I’m curious to see if these will generate some interest,” Grady said last week.
Grady filed a proposal that would lift caps on damages for pollutant discharges. The bill strikes a section of Florida law that outlines a series of caps on damages y for pollutant discharges that occur within sate boundaries. Among the changes, the bill would eliminate a $10 million cap on discharges from large cargo vessels and a $ 2 million cap on from smaller vessels.
More importantly, the measure specifically state the ability of governments to collect economic damages, a move to ensure that state and local governments are reimbursed for lost tax revenue caused by an accident or pollutant discharge.
Those issues are now more likely to be addressed in September.