Special Reports

Fla. lawmakers call for amendment to ban offshore drilling

ST. PETERSBURG -- Two state representatives today called for an amendment to the Florida Constitution that would ban oil and gas drilling in state-controlled waters off the coast.

State Reps. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, and Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, proposed a special session of the Florida Legislature in order to amend the state constitution to prohibit oil and gas drilling in state waters.

The amendment would ban exploration, drilling, extraction and production beneath Florida waters, they said during a press conference along the beach at the TradeWinds Resort, St. Pete Beach.

The two urged that the issue be put before voters on the November ballot.

Gov. Charlie Crist's office said the governor is open to the Democrats' proposal for a special session to ban oil drilling.

Florida law already bans drilling in state-controlled waters, but Democratic legislators want to make the ban permanent. The call comes as the state’s coastlines are threatened by oil gushing from a sunken drill rig off the coast of Louisiana.

State waters extend three miles into the Atlantic Ocean and 10.35 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Some Republican legislators want drilling within three miles of shore for temporary rigs and six miles for permanent rigs.

Federal law bans drilling within 125 miles of Florida, but before the Louisiana spill, Democratic President Barack Obama called for lowering that limit.

“We’re proposing to drive a stake through the heart of this particular bad idea, and end it once and for all,” Fitzgerald said of oil drilling proposals that would allow rigs close to shore.

He went on to explain that he and Kriseman over the years have proposed a variety of bills encouraging renewable forms of energy that do not rely on fossil fuels, such as oil and gas. But most have failed in the Republican-dominated legislature, he said.

He contended there is no reason why The Sunshine State cannot be a leader in renewable energy.

Already backing Fizgerald’s and Kriseman’s proposal was state CFO and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, the two state reps announced at the end of the press conference.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, when asked his opinion of Fitzgerald and Kriseman’s proposal, said, “I think it’s definitely got everybody’s attention now. I think we’ve proven we’ve got to be cautious and careful, we can’t ignore our energy needs. As far as him calling for it ( special session), I don’t have a problem with it.”

Asked if the proposal really might have a chance of success, Reagan replied: “I can’t see it happening. It’s a nice publicity-getter.”

But Reagan said he might vote for a bill to put referendum on the ballot. We’re talking only about what we’ve got control over, a limited area, up to 10 miles or so (in the gulf), I would probably vote for it, at that point.”

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice said she would not support the call for a special session.

“I wouldn’t get the point of why we would hold a special session. I think we will be dealing with oil drilling next session, and by that time, we’ll have a better picture of how much is the cleanup costs, and who’s changed their minds about drilling. The people who visited us told us this couldn’t happen--they had shut-off valves that would automatically shut it off if there was any kind of leak. A special session would be a waste of taxpayers’ dollars at this point,” Detert said.

Florida CFO Alex Sink, a Democratic candidate for governor, said she has seen the BP oil spill up close, spreading for miles.

"This evidence proves that near beach drilling in Florida is a disastrous idea -- we must never let oil companies drill just three miles off our beaches,” Sink said . “Last year, oil companies spent millions on lobbyists and a PR spin machine and quickly passed near beach drilling through the Florida House. The people of Florida must send Legislators a message that we will not allow Florida’s economy to be put at risk or forget the painful lessons of this historic spill.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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