By Representative Joe Gibbons
July 30, 2010
On July 20, the Florida Legislature was called into special session in response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Recognizing the threats to our coastal communities and ecosystems, Governor Charlie Crist called the session for the sole purpose of asking the Legislature to allow voters to consider amending the Florida Constitution this fall to prohibit near-shore drilling in state waters 3 to 10 miles from our coastline.
House Speaker Larry Cretul began the session telling Florida House members that the governor lacked veto power over proposed constitutional amendments and the proposed amendment would not resolve the current issues caused by the spill. He said additional studies were needed before the House and Senate should respond. Rather than acting on the constitutional amendment, he established six workgroups to address problems facing Florida’s coastal communities.
This action was a 51-minute tactic by the Republican Party to overturn the Governor’s decision of a special session. Despite outcry from Floridians and the 44 Democratic members of the House of Representatives who sought to give voters an opportunity to have their voices heard, the House adjourned “sine die.”
A poll conducted by Progress Florida showed 71 percent of Florida’s voters wanted the chance to vote on the oil drilling ban, and 50 percent opposed drilling within 10 miles of Florida’s coast. Our pristine beaches, as well as fishing, boating and diving industries bring in more than $6 billion a year, and drilling for oil risks Florida’s economy, our clean beaches, healthy corals and beautiful coastlines. Although the amendment may not prevent the current catastrophe affecting our shores, it would have allowed voters the opportunity this November to pass a permanent ban on future offshore drilling.
My biggest disappointment was that the Legislature accomplished nothing. We could have worked on other policy initiatives and ideas to help Gulf residents and businesses dramatically affected by the incident. Florida CFO Alex Sink and others recommended policies and actions that could have been debated and acted upon while we were in special session.
As the Democratic ranking member of the House Energy and Utilities Policy Committee, I sponsored legislation during the special session that would require each public utility to generate at least 5 percent of its total energy production exclusively from renewable energy sources. Supporting the adoption of a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) mechanism will result in competition, efficiency and innovation in Florida that will deliver renewable energy at a lower cost. It would provide the certainty necessary for lenders and investors to believe that Florida is committed to renewable energy development. Currently there are 30 to 50 states that have some sort of renewable standard in place. We need to invest in clean-alternative fuels to protect our state for future generations.
However, the focus for now should be on the offshore drilling amendment and relief for Gulf residents. The Florida Legislature is scheduled to reconvene as early as September for another special session to take up economic remedies to offset damages affecting businesses and residents in Florida’s northwest Panhandle.
As a state representative, elected by the people, I feel that it is my responsibility to allow the voters to make decisions that directly impact them. It is my hope that we will learn a lesson from this disaster, put political affiliations aside and focus on the people of our great State of Florida.
Representative Joseph A. Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, represents Florida House District 105 in Broward County.
Contact: Mark Hollis
Florida House of Representatives