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Florida Dems Seek to Ban Oil Drilling Near State's Coast

Democratic state lawmakers from Florida are asking Gov. Charlie Crist to take up the issue of offshore drilling in a special legislative session, in the wake of the massive oil spill that started when an oil rig run by BP exploded last month.

State sen. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat and a candidate this year to be the state's attorney general, sent a letter Tuesday to the governor, asking for a constitutional amendment to ban the practice of near-shore oil drilling, the St. Petersburg Times reports.

"I have long been inalterably opposed to near shore drilling, and believe we should give our citizens the chance to render their judgment through a constitutional amendment," Gelber wrote. "If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it's that the risks associated with drilling will never outweigh the money offered by Big Oil, no matter how much they pump into the political system or offer the state. We need to put the oil drilling debate in our rear view mirror and move on."

The request puts more scrutiny on politicians' positions on offshore drilling, which has become a sticky subject as hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil continue to spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

Some Republicans and Democrats -- including President Obama -- are insisting offshore drilling remains an important part of a comprehensive energy plan. Other Democrats, however, such as Florida Sen. Bill Nelson want to block plans to expand offshore drilling. Nelson and other lawmakers are also sponsoring legislation to make BP pay for a larger share of the economic damages caused by the spill.

Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek of Florida is co-sponsoring Nelson's legislation to make oil companies more liable. Meek is trailing behind Crist and Republican Marco Rubio in a three-way race to represent Florida in the Senate, but his position on offshore drilling has given him a chance to go on the offensive against his opponents.

"Rubio comes from the 'drill, baby, drill' faction of the Republican Party and that's where Gov. Crist was for a period as well," a spokesperson for Meek told the Miami Herald. "But Gov. Crist has gone where the political winds have taken him and hasn't held a firm position. Speaker Rubio has taken a firm position -- it's just the wrong one."

Rubio has declined to rule out additional offshore drilling, the Herald reports. Crist, who dropped out of the GOP Senate primary against Rubio to run for the Senate as an independent, now opposes more drilling. However, he has supported it in the past.

Crist said last week that "all bets are off" when it comes to oil drilling, according to the Herald.

"This is not far enough, this is not safe enough and it sure as heck is not clean enough," he said.

Gelber said that he thinks Crist will be open to his proposal for a constitutional amendment to ban near-shore drilling, Politico reports.

"I think Crist will be very responsive to it," he said. "I know people close to the issue have been talking to him about it. Given his situation, I don't think he's going to obstruct out of party loyalty."

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