On Tuesday, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, was unanimously elected president of the Florida Senate for the 2022-2024 Legislative Term.
Pursuant to the Florida Constitution, the Florida Legislature convenes 14 days following the general election for the purpose of organization, election of officers and adoption of rules.
Passidomo delivered the following comments, as prepared for delivery, following introductions of her family, special guests, and dignitaries:
As I sat down in a very quiet Capitol in the early hours last Thursday morning to gather my thoughts for my remarks today, I reflected on the role I am about to undertake, that all 40 of us are about to undertake, and the enormous responsibility the voters of our state have charged us with. The campaigns are over, and the work starts now. We are the eyes and ears and the voices of our constituents.
Each of us represents over 560,000 people, and we need to work together to ensure our children will have a world class education in a safe environment so they can thrive and grow and become productive members of our community, so their parents will have good paying jobs and affordable places to live and raise their families, and our seniors will be cherished and protected as they enter their golden years.
We are here to serve our great state and deliver for the voters who elected us. Senators, let’s do this together.
Most issues we will agree on, such as work force housing, protection of the environment, safeguarding our vulnerable population, and honoring our veterans and first responders. There are a few issues we will not agree on, and that is Okay. I assure you we are going to listen to each other’s concerns and incorporate suggestions to make every bill better. But at the end of the day, we each have a responsibility to the voters who elected us, and those voters overwhelmingly support the conservative agenda of fiscal responsibility, protecting parents’ rights, honoring the dignity of work, and expanding education opportunities for our students. That will drive our work for the next two years.
Every Senator has the right to be heard and the right to make their case. Whatever the outcome, we respect each other as equals and we enter and exit this chamber as friends.
One of our first challenges is our response to Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole. My family was personally impacted by Hurricane Ian. I heard from so many of you. Prayers, calls, texts and emails. Fortunately, my family was safe. And with help from so many of you, we are already working to rebuild.
Many others suffered more severe losses. Loss of life. Loss of home. Loss of business. Loss of job. As I walked through the communities impacted by Ian in the days that followed, the devastation was almost indescribable. But the community and residents are bound and determined to rebuild stronger and better than ever. The resilience of Floridians is phenomenal.
We are not in this alone. Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the full force of state government is helping. First responders activated to help those in need. Roads and bridges were reconstructed in record time. The state expedited clean-up of debris.
While the aftermath of the storms has truly been an example of government at its best, the response goes far beyond the reach and capability of government. Neighbors showed up to help neighbors. Private sector companies have also stepped up in a big way. Volunteers and religious organizations came from far and wide to lend a hand. Because of all these efforts, I know we will soon be stronger and better than ever.
Next month, the Florida Legislature will convene in a special session to address the challenges still facing our state’s insurance market and ensure residents whose homes are uninhabitable get a break on property taxes. Hurricane recovery is just one of many issues we must tackle in the weeks and months ahead.
As we look to the future, Florida’s economy is in great shape. Our unemployment rate is a full point below the national rate. The Sunshine State is on track for record growth this year.
However, while Florida’s economy is booming, the pain of inflation is very real for Florida families. We see it at the grocery store. We see it at the gas pump. And we certainly see it in the housing market.
Likely the single most pressing issue facing our state today is the cost of housing which has exponentially grown over the past several years. Florida is one of best – if not the best – place to live, work, raise a family or retire. Over the last two years, Americans have fled high tax, lockdown states and moved to the Sunshine State in droves.
The appeal of the free state of Florida has put an intense pressure on our already overburdened housing market. The cost of rent and home ownership has skyrocketed. These costs, combined with the challenges of inflation on essential items, are difficult on Florida families. In addition, they are a threat to Florida’s workforce.
If our workers do not have a safe and affordable place to live and raise their families, we will not be able to recruit and retain the workforce we need in the Sunshine State. Last year, we dedicated record funding to affordable housing, with an emphasis on home ownership. It is clear we need to do more.
We need to recognize the changing needs as well as the varied demographics of a diverse, mobile and to a certain extent remote workforce. We need affordable rental property for all income levels and family sizes. I want teachers, firefighters, and police officers and, frankly, all Florida workers to be able to live in the communities they serve. I want a young professional who works remotely and can live anywhere to choose Florida because we have housing opportunities close to vibrant communities. I want an elderly couple looking to downsize to have more options.
I have been traveling the state all summer and fall, hearing from employers and talking to families about these challenges. And, I am working with stakeholders to develop thoughtful, meaningful policies that can make living in Florida more accessible and more affordable.
I know state government cannot independently fix or outrun the problems caused by inflation, but I believe a focus on safe, attainable workforce housing is one area where we can do our part to support Florida families through these challenging times. This will be a top priority of ours, and I look forward to your input.
Also, we are going to continue our fight to protect family values. Some folks are trying to distance parents from important decisions in their child’s life. Whether it is education, health or sports, keeping the parents in the dark is unacceptable.
We have made great strides in recent years to defend and expand parental rights in education.
Moving forward, we are going to make sure that any decision that involves a minor allows the parents at the table.
Senators, today I have discussed some very serious issues that we will tackle over the next two years. But, then there are some issues that are just plain fun.
With Governor DeSantis’ leadership, the Legislature has prioritized investments in environmental restoration and clean water resources with record funding for water storage, water quality, and Everglades Restoration, as well as the preservation and expansion of Florida’s iconic Wildlife Corridor.
Florida’s wildlife corridor is a national treasure, encompassing about 17 million acres, including almost 10 million acres of conservation lands running up the center of the state. The corridor is being created by the state’s purchase of development rights of farmers and ranchers who will be able to continue their operations in perpetuity and the lands will never be developed. With the funding this Legislature has dedicated over the last two years, we will be able to expand the corridor even further.
One of my goals over the next two years is to continue the expansion and to connect the Wildlife Corridor to the Florida Trail System, so that more people across our state and around the world can experience Old Florida at its finest, so you can bicycle, run, or walk from Naples to Orlando.
Florida is already a global destination for outdoor recreation and adventure enthusiasts. Expanding our trail system has the added benefit of connecting our residents and visitors to Florida’s cultural heritage of the small, legacy towns across Florida’s heartland who are eager for increases in tourism.
I believe that 50 years from now our children and grandchildren will say that the greatest thing the Florida legislature did in the 2020’s was the creation of the Wildlife Corridor and the preservation of millions of acres of farmland and ranch land for conservation. It will be our Central Park.
Senators, it is obvious we have a lot of work to do. All the issues I have discussed today are important, but this list is not even comprehensive. Like every President before me I have ambitious plans for my tenure over the next two years that time does not permit me to detail in my remarks today – stay tuned!
We must remain focused. If it is not broken, we’re not going to fix it. I am not interested in food fights between special interests. We are here to serve the constituents we represent. It may require late nights and long weeks. It may include special sessions during interim committee weeks. But we will not adjourn until we get the job done.
That is what Floridians sent us here to do. And, together with our Governor, Cabinet and colleagues in the Florida House, we will deliver. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!
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