Photo by Tom Urban
New Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, outlined priorities Tuesday.
Armed with a large majority, Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo outlined what she described as a voter-supported “conservative agenda” as she became Florida Senate president Tuesday.
Passidomo, who was formally elected president during an organization session of the Legislature, stressed a need to expand parental rights and a state wildlife corridor, address workforce housing and respond to Hurricane Ian, which caused massive damage in her Southwest Florida district.
“We each have a responsibility to the voters who elected us,” Passidomo said. “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.”
The organization session included swearing in lawmakers, in addition to Passidomo and new House Speaker Paul Renner taking the gavels.
Passidomo called Renner a “great partner, describing him as “a quiet and thoughtful man with unquestionable integrity.”
She also praised Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appeared in the House and Senate during the session, saying “we are grateful for your leadership.”
Senate Republicans added four seats in the Nov. 8 elections to give them a 28-12 “supermajority” that procedurally will prevent Democrats from being able to slow down or block legislation.
Sen. Corey Simon, a Tallahassee Republican who defeated incumbent Democrat Loranne Ausley in this month’s election, seconded Passidomo’s nomination as president Tuesday and said lawmakers will work to expand vocational opportunities, address the cost of living for first responders and work against “cancel culture that rejects the foundational roles of faith and family.”
Simon said lawmakers don’t have “just a mandate, but a responsibility to preserve access to the American Dream.”
Passidomo took over as president as abortion opponents chanted “baby lives matter” and “protection at conception” in the Capitol’s fourth-floor rotunda.
Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Davie, said Democrats await Passidomo’s proposals about workforce housing and the wildlife corridor, but otherwise will “fight back as much and as hard as we can” against the conservative agenda.
Book, who became leader in 2021, was installed for another two years during a ceremony Monday.
Speaking to reporters later after Tuesday’s session, Passidomo said lawmakers will wait to make any abortion changes until after the Florida Supreme Court acts on a challenge to a new state law that prevents abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“Everybody knows my position on the exception for rape and incest,” Passidomo said. “I wanted to get that in the bill. When we did the 15 weeks, it didn't get in the bill. But there's really nothing to do until the Supreme Court rules.”
Passidomo, a New Jersey native who entered the House in 2010 and was first elected to the Senate in 2016, is the third woman to lead the chamber.
Addressing former Senate President Toni Jennings, who held the powerful office from 1996 to 2000 and gave the opening benediction on Tuesday, Passidomo said she was “honored and humbled to carry on the strong legacy of women leadership in the Florida Senate.”
Tuesday’s largely ceremonial session returned much of the pageantry that was lost when new leaders and lawmakers took office two years ago. At that time, the Capitol was closed to the public because of COVID-19.
With the Senate seating gallery nearly full, new lawmakers mingled Tuesday on the floor with family members and former legislators.
Also unlike two years ago, lawmakers aren’t facing the prospects of financial fallout from the pandemic. With unemployment down, the state’s coffers are flush with federal stimulus money and higher-than-expected tax revenues.
During her address to the Senate, Passidomo, who is working on legislation that would tie financial incentives to mixed-use housing, connected workforce housing with inflation.
“If our workers don't have safe and affordable places to live and raise their families, we will not be able to recruit and retain the workforce we need in the Sunshine State,” Passidomo said.
Passidomo also emphasized the wildlife corridor, which is planned as a network of about 17 million acres of greenspace, including about 10 million acres of conservation lands, running up the center of the state.
Passidomo said her goal is to expand the corridor to include a trail network.
“I believe that 50 years from now our children and grandchildren will say that the greatest thing the Florida Legislature did in the 2020s was the creation of the wildlife corridor and the preservation of millions of acres of farmland and ranch land for conservation,” Passidomo said. “It will be our Central Park.”