Florida lawmakers block move on oil drilling ban

* Florida law already bans drilling in state waters

* Constitutional ban would be harder to overturn

* Amendment would have needed approval by 60 pct of voters

By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., July 20 (BestGrowthStock) – Florida’s
Republican-led legislature on Tuesday rejected a call by
Governor Charlie Crist to consider a constitutional amendment
to strengthen the ban on oil drilling off the state’s coast.

The Florida House of Representatives voted 67-44 to adjourn
a special session without taking up Crist’s proposal to let
voters put a permanent ban on offshore drilling in the state’s
constitution.

The vote, coming against the backdrop of BP’s (BP.L: ) (BP.N: )
oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, was largely along party lines
with most Republicans supporting adjournment and Democrats in
favor of continuing the debate.

The vote was widely seen as part of a bid by Republicans to
weaken Crist and deny him a victory he could use after leaving
the Republican Party to run for the U.S. Senate as an
independent.

Drilling in state waters is already prohibited by statute
but putting the ban in Florida’s constitution would make it
much more difficult to overturn.

The Florida Senate, which had planned to meet through
Friday, adjourned hours after the House vote, saying there was
no point in conducting a debate when there was no chance a bill
would pass.

Recent polls show Crist, who has a slight edge in the
Senate race over Republican rival and Tea Party darling Marco
Rubio, may be more in line with the public than with his former
allies in the state legislature.

SHIFT IN OPINION POLL

A poll released Monday by Progress Florida showed 71
percent of Florida voters wanted the chance to vote on the oil
drilling ban, and 50 percent opposed drilling within 10 miles
of Florida’s coast.

The poll, conducted last week by Washington-based ISSI,
marked a dramatic shift from other surveys conducted before
BP’s oil disaster, when there was strong support for more oil
exploration off Florida.

If an amendment on offshore drilling had been approved by
three-fifths of the state’s House of Representatives and Senate
by Aug. 4, it would have gone before voters in the Nov. 2
general election.

Florida’s $6 billion-a-year tourism industry depends on
pristine beaches and fishing, boating and diving in unspoiled
waters.

Opponents of a constitutional ban on oil drilling off
Florida say a current statutory moratorium on drilling is
sufficient. Crist has argued that the moratorium could easily
be lifted by future legislatures.

Lawmakers from both parties said they planned to reconvene
as early as September for a special session to take up a number
of bills addressing economic remedies to offset damage,
especially affecting businesses and residents in Florida’s
northwest Panhandle region, from BP’s oil spill.

At that time, some lawmakers said they could readdress a
constitutional ban on drilling as well.

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(Reporting by Michael Peltier; Editing by Bill Trott)

Florida lawmakers block move on oil drilling ban