Michael Peltier: Lawmakers address oil, predators this week

MICHAEL PELTIER

— Oil drilling and proposed changes to state sexual predator laws will face lawmakers in the next few days as they enter the third week of the legislation session.

With budget allocations released, House and Senate budget negotiators will also get serious about crafting their tentative spending plans with hopes of completing their preliminary work by the end of March. They’ve got their work cut out for them, a $3 billion gap.

Monday is normally a relatively calm day as lawmakers travel back to Tallahassee from their respective districts, but such may not be the case this week. Expect some sparks to fly Monday afternoon as a House panel hears some not so enthusiastic news about the benefits of drilling in the Gulf.

The House Select Policy Council on Strategic and Economic Planning hears results of a report by the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida on oil drilling in state waters.

The commission’s report, a draft of which was released earlier this month, says the discovery of oil and natural gas near the state’s Gulf Coast would have a negligible effect on gas prices or supply. Committee chairman Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, sponsored legislation last year to open up state waters to drilling and is expected to do so again this year.

The Century Commission was asked by Senate President Jeff Atwater to look at the pros and cons of opening up state waters to exploration. The commission’s findings put in question two proponents’ arguments, that the country’s dependence on foreign oil would be significantly reduced.

A pair of bills to keep convicted sexual predators away from children while acknowledging that offenders must live somewhere is also in the mix this week. Two bills winding their way through the chambers would pre-empt new local laws from being stricter than the state’s 1,000-foot residency bubble that prevents offenders from living too close to schools or other places where kids are.

But in a nod to lawmakers favoring stricter local laws, the proposals are expected to allow Miami and other cities that have adopted stricter buffers to keep them. Miami’s 2,500-foot buffer led to the construction of a shanty town as homeless sex offenders found it nearly impossible not to live within 2,500 feet of schools, daycares and other kid populated places.

The new bills would restrict future residency buffers to the state’s 1,000-foot rule and instead prevent convicted sexual predators from loitering within 300 feet of children, wherever they may congregate. Offenders still on probation would be barred from all parks, schools and other kid-friendly spots regardless of whether children are present.

House sponsor Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, has introduced legislation aimed at ending the patchwork of residency requirements in favor of a statewide policy before, but has seen the effort scuttled by those opposed to doing away with tough local ordinances.

“It’s not where they’re living. It’s not where they’re sleeping. It’s where they are when they’re awake,” Glorioso said.

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E-mail Michael Peltier at mpeltier1234@comcast.net

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