Politics & Government

Party-line vote ends Florida's oil drilling ban special session

The Florida House abruptly adjourned a special legislative session after 49 minutes Tuesday, rejecting Gov. Charlie Crist's proposal to let voters place a permanent ban on offshore drilling in the Florida Constitution.

The party-line vote to adjourn the session was 67-44, with Republicans supporting adjournment and Democrats in favor of continuing the debate.

A heckler from the visitors' gallery shouted that all 67 were "in the pocket of BP."

Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul began the session at 12:02 p.m. and promptly rejected Crist's call for the referendum. Instead, Cretul criticized the nonpartisan governor for his "surprise proclamation" calling lawmakers back to Tallahassee on short notice.

"The fact remains that he has called us here at the last possible moment to consider a constitutional amendment for which he never proposed any language and permitted far too little time for reflection and review," Cretul told the House and the visitors' gallery packed with drilling protesters. "This is a terrible way to propose constitutional changes."

Cretul said he and Senate President Jeff Atwater are working on a longer special session, most likely in September, to consider a package of economic recovery measures in response to the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

"Simple solutions designed to produce sound bites, photo-ops and political attacks will do nothing to hep Floridians in need of recovery," Cretul said.

Cretul formed six "work groups" of House members to study various aspects of the spill response and to propose "meaningful legislative solutions, if possible," by the end of August. The six work groups are all being led by junior Republican members, including three freshmen members. None of the six is from the Panhandle, the area experiencing the most severe economic hardships so far.

Earlier in the day, dozens of oil drilling opponents packed the Cabinet room in hopes of influencing the outcome.

Wearing green "Let the people vote" stickers, the drilling foes demanded that the Legislature agree with Crist and put a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot permanently banning near-shore drilling.

"Let the people vote!" the protesters chanted loudly. Several squeezed their way through the crowd to shake Crist's hand and personally thank him for his efforts.

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