TALLAHASSEE (AP) — The Republican-controlled Florida House abruptly ended a special legislative session Tuesday, July 20 just 43 minutes after it began without voting on Gov. Charlie Crist’s proposed constitutional amendment to ban offshore drilling in state waters.
The nearly party-line vote to adjourn may have dealt Crist, who quit the GOP to run for U.S. Senate as an independent, a legislative defeat in record time. But Crist, as well as Democrats, seized on this issue.
“How arrogant can a Legislature be?” Crist said. “When President (Harry) Truman was president he called the Congress the do-nothing Congress. Well, today I call this Legislature the do-nothing Legislature and I’m going to give them hell for it. I can’t believe that they would have that much of a lack of respect for the people of Florida.”
Crist called lawmakers into special session in a bid to put the drilling ban on the November ballot. It was a response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which has fouled some Panhandle beaches and put the rest of the state’s $61 billion tourism industry under a cloud.
Republicans said an amendment wasn’t needed because drilling is already banned in state waters, which go about 10 miles into the Gulf and three miles into the Atlantic Ocean. They also said the issue could wait until 2012 to give it a more thorough review while focusing immediate attention on finding ways to help Floridians recover from the spill.
Both sides accused the other of playing politics.
Key West Rep. Ron Saunders, who is slated to become the House Democratic leader in November, said Republicans hate Crist so much they wanted to deprive him of a victory.
“Secondly, I think that they thought that it would increase turnout in November, not just of Democrats, but of people who will vote against Republicans because Republicans are viewed as the party of big oil,” Saunders said.
Democrats said Florida needs an amendment that requires voter approval because the House, under heavy lobbying from oil interests, last year quickly passed a bill to repeal the existing ban. The Senate, though, declined to take it up during the waning days of the session.
Rep. Dean Cannon, a Winter Park Republican designated to become speaker in November, sponsored the repeal. He said an amendment wasn’t needed to stop him from trying again because the BP spill has been “a game changer.” He has joined Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, in promising not to consider it during their two-year terms.
“We are here today because of politics,” House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, told his chamber. “Simple solutions to produce sound bites, photo-ops and political attacks will do nothing to help Floridians in need recover.”
Cretul said Crist’s proposal would do nothing to help Floridians who have sustained economic damage from the spill.
Instead, he said that he and Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, plan to call another special session probably in September to consider legislation to address that issue. Cretul also announced the formation of six special committees that will formulate recommendations.
That special session, though, would be well after the Aug. 4 deadline for placing a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Even though he didn’t get his amendment, Crist still got his photo op. He joined dozens of seafood workers, tourism business people, environmentalists and other drilling foes who shouted “Let the people vote” at a Capitol rally about an hour before the House adjourned.
Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat running for attorney general, acknowledged Crist may be grandstanding but said that doesn’t mean the drilling ban is a bad idea.
Gelber said Republicans “had a hissy fit. They just took their ball, stormed off the field and decided that they just couldn’t address it at all.”
The Senate went into the session planning to hold workshops and committee meetings through Friday, July 23. Unable to act alone, though, the Senate adjourned less than two hours later.
The House roll call on adjournment was 67-44 with all Democrats and four Republicans voting no. The Senate vote was 18-16 with eight Republicans voting no and two Democrats crossing party lines to vote in favor.
Crist said he would not call lawmakers back to Tallahassee to try again.
Associated Press writer Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee contributed to this report.