TALLAHASSEE — Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul ended speculation over calling a special legislative session on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill Wednesday by declaring there’s no need for one.
The Ocala Republican wrote in a memo to his members that reports from six House working groups examining spill-related issues show none “require immediate formal legislative action.”
Senate President Jeff Atwater who had been pushing for such a session, bowed to Cretul’s decision and forwarded the speaker’s memo to senators.
Atwater, though, urged a Senate committee that’s been studying spill-related issues to “continue developing proposals, gathering data and working with incoming leadership in preparation” for the 2011 regular session in the spring.
The terms of Atwater, a North Palm Beach Republican also running for Florida chief financial officer, and Cretul expire in November.
Both leaders would have to agree before lawmakers could be called back to Tallahassee.
Gov. Charlie Crist also has the authority to call a special session. Crist did call one as a response to the spill in July to consider a proposed state constitutional amendment. It would have banned offshore drilling in state waters, which extend about three miles into the Atlantic Ocean and 10 miles into the gulf.
The House rejected that idea by voting on a nearly straight party-line basis to adjourn less than an hour after convening without even taking up the proposal. Republicans argued it wasn’t needed because state law already bans drilling in Florida waters. Democrats, though, noted the House last year voted to repeal that ban but it was not considered by the Senate.
A spokesman for Crist had no immediate comment Wednesday.
Democrats criticized Cretul’s decision.
“Florida’s Republican legislative leaders have once again shown their disdain for the people of this state,” said Rep. Adam Fetterman, D-Port St. Lucie.
Sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat running for attorney general, said House leaders’ claim in July that they needed more time to prepare for a special session “was nothing more than a political rope-a-dope.”
The Senate Select Committee on Florida’s Economy and the House working groups have looked at such issues as tax relief for spill victims, more funding for seafood testing and tourism promotion and tougher penalties for pollution violations.
Others include state assistance for those with spill-related claims and holding off on unemployment compensation premium increases for employers who laid off workers due to the spill.
Attorney General Bill McCollum, meanwhile, appeared before Crist’s Gulf Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force seeking support for legislation that would allow the statewide prosecutor to enforce criminal violations of environmental laws. That proposal has drawn opposition from state attorneys who now have sole responsibility for prosecuting environmental crimes.
The House working group on environmental laws recommended only that further review is needed on whether state attorneys are adequately prosecuting such crimes. No charges yet have been filed against BP PLC, which owned the leaking well, or other companies or individuals.
The same panel also suggested additional study on whether there’s a need to strengthen environmental laws. The other working groups concluded most issues were matters for the federal government, the governor or other state executive agencies rather than the Legislature.
“While the people of Florida are among victims of this spill, the Louisiana blowout occurred hundreds of miles from our state outside our jurisdiction,” Cretul wrote. He added that the spill is “under the exclusive control of a foreign corporation, the federal government and the United States Coast Guard.”