Environmental groups have launched a petition drive to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2012 that would ban oil drilling in Florida's nearshore waters.
The Florida Wildlife Federation announced the petition drive in an e-mail to supporters on Friday. The amendment is needed because the House in 2009 voted to pass a bill to allow drilling within three miles of the Gulf coast, said Preston Robertson, the group's vice president and general counsel.
"Having something in statute is good (only) until the very next legislative session," Robertson said.
Robertson is also serving as president of Save Our Seas, Beaches and Shores Inc., a political committee that is leading the petition drive. Other groups supporting the effort are Progress Florida and the Sea Turtle Conservancy, according to the committee's website.
After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Gov. Charlie Crist called a special legislative session on July 20 to put a drilling ban on the ballot in November. But the House and Senate adjourned without taking up any legislation after House leaders criticized the special session as a political maneuver by Crist.
House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, pointed out that the drilling ban already is in state law. And Rep. Dean Cannon and Sen. Mike Haridopolos, the incoming House and Senate leaders, have maintained there won't be a vote to lift the ban while they are in charge.
David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said the industry is focusing on safety as a priority in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
"There is currently a law in place that prohibits that [drilling] and we think it [the petition drive] is a bad idea," he said. "We don't need to restrict in the Constitution -- or forever -- the potential for oil and gas extraction near Florida."
In 2009, the House bill to lift the drilling ban in state law failed because the Senate refused to take up the measure. State waters extend 3 miles into the Atlantic Ocean and 10.36 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.
"I just think that whether we are to become another oil state or whether we are going to stay a tourism destination is such an important question that the citizens of the state -- we have 18 million people -- should be allowed to vote on," Robertson said.
Organizers behind the amendment will need to collect nearly 677,000 signatures from registered voters by early 2012 to make the ballot. Then 60 percent of voters must approve the measure in order for it to pass.
Photo by Samuel Wantman, GFDL. Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting email@example.com.)