Floridians are nervous and rightfully so. BP's promises to "make things
right" only go so far, and it's more than possible that our state's
share of a $20 billion escrow will be woefully inadequate to compensate
Florida for the decades of damage that may follow.
So while I hope for the best,
we must prepare for the worst and make sure we have the backs of our
residents and businesses that may find themselves damaged by BP's gross
To those ends I renew my call for Gov. Charlie Crist
to call the Legislature back into a special session to confront head-on
solutions to these complex challenges.
We should review Florida
statutes with the goal of eliminating any statutory obstacles to fully
recovering from BP and other responsible parties. While many of the
lawsuits will be in federal court, we should make sure our state laws
guarantee our citizens are made whole.
We may need to clarify
laws regarding what qualifies as an economic loss. For instance, a court
in Central Florida recently held that, under state law, commercial
fisherman have no lost income claim due to pollution affecting their
fishing grounds because the fishermen have no property interest in the
We also should consider creating a provision that penalizes
those who exercise bad faith in resolving claims, and address some of
the deceptive practices that our residents may encounter in the claims
process and spill aftermath. I also believe we should give the attorney
general authority to robustly prosecute environmental crimes.
will be state and federal civil claims, criminal claims with potential
fines and victim compensation awards, and claims that are paid simply
through the claims process. It makes sense for Florida to consider
creating a claims commissioner with the twin goals of advocating for
aggrieved Floridians and helping administer the claims process.
compensation commission will be able to create efficiencies in the
claims process and better assure equity and uniformity in payouts. The
commission might be of use to distribute funds coming from lawsuits once
damages have been established. Someone like former Attorney General Bob
Butterworth, who is well versed in complex state and federal
litigation, could serve as its commissioner.
We also should focus
on establishing a small business relief program for Florida's coastal
businesses that are most acutely feeling the pain from the oil spill.
The Legislature should stand up an agency whose only purpose is to
address immediate needs of small businesses being harmed by the spill.
It is important that we act quickly because failure to provide immediate
and sustained relief especially impacts small businesses that generally
lack reserves and ability to withstand this type of crisis.
finally, we must enshrine in our state's constitution a ban on
near-shore drilling. Those who argue it is already against the law are
exactly the ones who wanted to change the law to permit oil rigs within 3
miles of our coastline. If we don't do it now, it is unlikely the
Legislature will ever acquiesce to putting it on the ballot. I know it's
not easy to navigate this crisis in the vortex of an election cycle.
But that's a challenge, not an excuse. We need action.
nervous and rightfully so. BP's promises to "make things right" only go
so far, and it's more than possible that our state's share of a $20
billion escrow will be woefully inadequate to compensate Florida for the
decades of damage that may follow.