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Atwater: We need a special session at 'earliest possible date'

Senate President Jeff Atwater, now facing some heat in his general election battle for CFO, sent a letter to legislators today sort of explaining why he wants to call a special session. The most succinct piece: " I will be disappointed if we do not return in a Special Session at the earliest possible date.''

Atwater has come under fire from his Democratic opponent for CFO, Loranne Ausley, for dragging his feet in not announcing a special session. He said he's awaiting word from the very reluctant Florida House.

Ausley's spokesman Kevin CAte called Atwater's called his frustration "feigned" and said his response was "weak, vague, and devoid of any meaningful relief proposals for small business owners."

Here's Atwater's lengthy letter:

"In light of the ongoing Gulf oil disaster, there has been a great deal of conversation lately regarding a Special Session and next steps.  I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on both.

"While there may be room for cautious optimism about the status of the Deepwater Horizon well itself, I have no doubts that serious ecological and economic issues remain.  In my estimation residents along the Gulf will continue to feel the effects of the disaster for some time, and families and small businesses in those parts of the State will clearly benefit from some legislative relief now and in the foreseeable future.  Many of the issues this State will face are as yet unknown, and those that can be reasonably defined are extremely complex.  Our collective response will have to be deliberative and thoughtful. 

"I have been sensitive to the needs of the Panhandle from the moment that the magnitude of this event became apparent.  Shortly after the platform explosion, I charged Chairman Gaetz and the Select Committee on Florida’s Economy with the task of conducting hearings and gathering data with which to gauge the magnitude of the problem and the anticipated impacts on the residents of Florida.  That Committee has been working diligently over the past few months to identify and recommend statutory actions that could be implemented in response to both short and long term imperatives.  I have personally been active in the affected regions, making numerous visits, meeting with elected officials and private citizens, and setting up weekly phone conferences with all affected parties throughout the area.

"I believe our actions, and those of the Select Committee, have had a positive influence on both the State and Federal response even in the absence of formal legislative action.  We have continued to work with BP to refine and streamline its claims paying process and the dissemination  of  information  to  affected  residents.  Our  efforts  reinforced  local  government  demands for resources necessary to combat pollution, protect natural resources, clean affected beaches, and receive appropriate reimbursement by BP for cleanup activities.  We have worked with BP to ensure that affected Floridians were able to participate in the Vessels of Opportunity program, thus ensuring that Floridians affected by the oil release and unable to pursue their vocations were employed to the greatest degree possible in the cleanup process.  Along with other statewide partners, we pushed BP to contribute $50 million for cleanup efforts, $25 million for statewide marketing, and an additional $7 million for marketing specific to affected counties. 

 "Our work in the Panhandle has been concentrated on ensuring that residents, workers, and businesses in affected areas are appropriately represented.  We will continue to monitor the activities of Ken Feinberg, the Federal claims administrator, to make sure that legitimate claims of affected Floridians and Florida businesses are paid quickly and that the claims process will be easy to use.  Emergency payment procedures should be flexible and focus on fair, equitable, and speedy claims payments.

"Florida is now more prepared than ever for future potential events.  While Florida’s emergency management procedures were generally effective, this event revealed some opportunities for improvement, which are in the process of being implemented.  Florida now has a certified lab at the Department of Agriculture that will prove invaluable in demonstrating the safety of Florida seafood to consumers and combating the loss of confidence.  Florida was able to train future emergency management leaders in real-life situations in the Emergency Operations Center.  Those affected in the Gulf clearly recognize the sincerity of our desire to assist them in any way possible.

 "Reasonable people will differ on the appropriate next steps.  I have been very clear that my preference is to have a meaningful Special Session, devoid of purely political overtones, dealing specifically with some of the recommendations forthcoming from the Select Committee.  On July 8 I sent a letter to the Members of the Senate regarding what I felt to be some material weaknesses in the Governor’s call for a Special Session and suggesting an expansion of his call.  That was followed by a letter to the Speaker on July 15 asking that he consider a Special Session later in the summer which would engage more substantive concerns.  After gaveling the Special Session to a close I publicly offered my views on what had transpired, and reiterated my desire for a more meaningful gathering.  I will repeat again what I said then, I will be disappointed if we do not return in a Special Session at the earliest possible date.

 "I respect Speaker Cretul, his leadership team, and the process the House has defined.  As you all know, the Speaker has appointed six workgroups to explore specific facets of the Gulf oil release, and asked Rep. Aubuchon to coordinate that process.  All indications are that he and his working group leaders have committed themselves to the task with dedication and professionalism.  Rep. Aubuchon indicated yesterday that a final report would be delivered to the Speaker on August 31. 

 "While we await a decision from the House regarding a mutually shared interest in proceeding with a Special Session, I continue to press our Select Committee to fine tune our initiatives so that we can proceed, without delay, in mitigating the impact of the oil release on Florida’s citizens and small businesses along the Gulf.  As soon as we hear from the House, I will communicate with you immediately."