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Atwater: special session this summer is a good idea

After touring the oil-tarred beaches of the Gulf coast over the weekend, Senate President Jeff Atwater , R-North Palm Beach, says he is now supportive of calling a summer special session to deal with a host of issues from tax relief for Gulf Coast businesses to adopting incentives for renewable energy. He hasn't heard from the governor on the issue, however, since May 10, when Gov. Charlie Crist first asked him to support a special session to pass a constitutional amendment to ban drilling in Florida waters, and admits the reluctance of House leaders to come into session remains a hurdle.

"I believe there are some things the legislature could responsibly do to offer relief in the near term and the long term,'' Atwater said, after a reception for Senate staff in the Capitol on Monday.  "These neighbors of ours are hurting and are in deparate straits. It's no longer about a lose summer season. It's about a lost culture."

Next door, in the House gallery, was a meeting of the Clean Energy Congress, a gathering of clean energy advocates meeting to come up with ways to increase public pressure on policymakers to shift Florida's dependence off fossil fuels. Stephen Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, urged the group that they should not leave the two-day meeting without calling for a special legislative session that puts on the ballot both an oil drilling ban and a renewable portfolio standard that requires power companies to derive a percentage of its power from clean energy sources. Florida is one of only 11 states that still don't have such a standard in place.

“We need a special session here in Florida,'' Smith said. "We need it in the month of July…If the legislature is not going to give us an RPS, then get out of the way and take it to the voters. I guarantee it will win.''

Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Indialantic, the Senate's presumed Senate president next year, told the Herald/Times that he is also supportive of coming back in special session to take up incentives for renewable energy, such as the bill proposed last year that would have allowed electric companies to raise rates to build solar power plants. But he doesn't like Crist's suggestion for a constitutional amendment because any suggestion of oil drilling off Florida's coast is a dead becuase of the oil spill. "It’s so overtly political to ban something that’s alredy banned,'' he said of the governor's suggestion.

Atwater, Republican candidate for chief financial officer, like the governor, a candidate for U.S. Senate, could benefit from the attention a special session could bring them. But House Speaker Larry Cretul, who is retiring from office because of term limits, doesn't face the same incentives.