Gov. Charlie Crist calls special legislative session on oil drilling

Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday that a special legislative session will be called in the next couple of weeks to focus on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban offshore oil exploration, as well as new tax incentives to encourage utilities to promote renewable energy sources.

``I think it's important that we go ahead and have a special session,'' said Crist, who indicated Senate President Jeff Atwater was in support of it.

``I'm encouraged that the Legislature is of a mind to do so as well,'' he said.

The call for a special session come at a time when the Gulf oil spill -- though not projected to hit Florida anytime soon -- has heightened political tension around oil drilling in Florida.

And that means there are political points to be scored for Crist, who will be in the media spotlight as he seeks to strengthen his independent U.S. Senate candidacy.

It's also a potential publicity bonanza for Atwater, a Republican candidate for chief financial officer.

At least three-fifths of both houses of the Legislature would have to pass the proposed amendment, and at least 60 percent of voters would have to vote for it in November -- two hurdles that Crist says can easily be overcome.

``There's no stronger place to put it. The Constitution is the bedrock of our democracy,'' Crist said.

Crist also signed an executive order creating the Gulf Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force to focus on the economic and environmental impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill and to help businesses in the spill's path recover from economic losses. The task force will have a website and will be based in Tallahassee; the chairman has not yet been chosen, Crist said.

The idea of a special session for a constitutional amendment first arose last week when Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Democratic lawmakers called on Crist to hold a special session to decide whether they want to permanently end efforts to open Florida's near-shore waters to oil and gas exploration.

The amendment would impose a permanent ban on exploration, drilling, oil extraction and production under Florida waters, which stretch out 10 miles from shore.