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Crist Says Decision Coming Soon on Special Session

By Gina Jordan

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-900893.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – Lawmakers just left town a week ago, and already there are calls for them to return to the Capitol for a special session. Gina Jordan tells us they have several issues to choose from.

The three reasons that keep coming up are oil drilling, the budget, and political corruption. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is getting the most attention, but Republican Senator Paula Dockery of Lakeland, also a candidate for governor, doesn't think immediate legislation is warranted.

"I think that it's always a natural to call for some kind of legislative action right after some occurrence, i.e. oil drilling or with the budget. But you just sent 160 legislators home after being in Tallahassee almost all of January, February, and all of March and April, and now is not the time to hurriedly call us back. We should go into session when there's clearly defined goals, when there's a time sensitive issue to be addressed."

Dockery serves on environmental committees, and she says she has always been concerned about the push for drilling near Florida's coastline. She says a lot of Republicans feel the same way, and if legislation to allow offshore drilling had come before the Senate, she doesn't think it would have passed. Still, there's talk of lawmakers offering the voters a Constitutional amendment to ban offshore drilling.

"But I think to hastily call us into a special session to try to pass something like that is also not time sensitive. I think we don't have laws on the books that allow drilling right now, so there's no need to ban it when it's not allowed at this point."

Dockery sees no need to "politicize the situation" while the state tries to deal with the current catastrophe in the Gulf. But another gubernatorial candidate, Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, strongly supports the idea.

"We've all seen enough now in terms of the devastation that can occur when an accident happens, and we all know accidents do happen. There is no reason whatsoever to ever consider drilling three miles off the beaches of Florida, and I think that the people of Florida ought to be given the opportunity to go to the ballot box in November and vote for this proposal."

Sink, during a trip to the panhandle to check on the oil spill, said she heard Governor Crist say he is seriously considering a special session to deal with ethics and corruption in government.

"We've now seen yet another elected official out of Orlando charged with bribery, and it unfortunately appears to be epidemic in some communities. It is imperative I believe that the Legislature take action."

Since he was elected governor, Charlie Crist says he has removed forty public officials from office because of wrongdoing. But Dockery says bringing the lawmakers back to the Capitol is a big expense that may not accomplish much. She doesn't expect there will be a "spirit of cooperation," and she's especially unhappy that the corruption issue wasn't handled during the regular session.

"A state legislator should not make money off any legislation, so they should not sponsor a bill if they or a family member are going to financially benefit, they should not vote for a bill, and they should not lobby a bill. I think that's good old fashioned common sense, and the fact that that bill could not get a hearing in three years does not bode well for sensing the Legislature's mood on passing good government corruption legislation."

Dockery thinks special sessions should be called only when there is an immediate need, as happened last year when a $2-billion budget shortage had to be dealt with. In the session that just ended, Dockery sided with three Senate Democrats in voting no on the upcoming budget. She hopes Governor Crist will use the line item veto on some provisions instead of vetoing the entire thing, which would force lawmakers back to Tallahassee. But Sink sees an opportunity to take care of all of these concerns at once.

"The governor is clearly considering calling a special session specifically for ethics, and I believe that it would be very timely for him to add on the request for the Constitutional amendment. And it's possible also that the state may be looking at needing to set aside some money to perhaps, for example, do some additional advertising around the country to support our tourist industry this summer and get these visitors back to Florida."

The cost of a special session could run upwards of $50-thousand a day.